• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming and home schooling. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 16/Grade 11, 14/Grade 9, and 13/Grade 8.

    Contact me at becky.farmschool@gmail.com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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Current events: Ukraine

Are you looking for a clear, concise explanation of recent events in Ukraine, for yourself or your kids? You can’t do any better than today’s post in the New York Review blog, “Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda” by Timothy Snyder. From which:

From Moscow to London to New York, the Ukrainian revolution has been seen through a haze of propaganda. Russian leaders and the Russian press have insisted that Ukrainian protesters were right-wing extremists and then that their victory was a coup. Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, used the same clichés after a visit with the Russian president at Sochi. After his regime was overturned, he maintained he had been ousted by “right-wing thugs,” a claim echoed by the armed men who seized control of airports and government buildings in the southern Ukrainian district of Crimea on Friday[.]

Interestingly, the message from authoritarian regimes in Moscow and Kiev was not so different from some of what was written during the uprising in the English-speaking world, especially in publications of the far left and the far right. From Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review through Ron Paul’s newsletter through The Nation and The Guardian, the story was essentially the same: little of the factual history of the protests, but instead a play on the idea of a nationalist, fascist, or even Nazi coup d’état.

In fact, it was a classic popular revolution. It began with an unmistakably reactionary regime. A leader sought to gather all power, political as well as financial, in his own hands. This leader came to power in democratic elections, to be sure, but then altered the system from within. For example, the leader had been a common criminal: a rapist and a thief. He found a judge who was willing to misplace documents related to his case. That judge then became the chief justice of the Supreme Court. There were no constitutional objections, subsequently, when the leader asserted ever more power for his presidency.

and

It is hard to have all of the power and all of the money at the same time, because power comes from the state, and the state has to have a budget. If a leader steals so much from the people that the state goes bankrupt, then his power is diminished. Yanukovych actually faced this problem last year. And so, despite everything, he became vulnerable, in a very curious way. He needed someone to finance the immediate debts of the Ukrainian state so that his regime would not fall along with it.

Struggling to pay his debts last year, the Ukrainian leader had two options. The first was to begin trade cooperation with the European Union. No doubt an association agreement with the EU would have opened the way for loans. But it also would have meant the risk of the application of the rule of law within Ukraine. The other alternative was to take money from another authoritarian regime, the great neighbor to the east, the Russian Federation.

In December of last year, the leader of this neighboring authoritarian regime, Vladimir Putin, offered a deal. From Russia’s hard currency reserves accumulated by the sale of hydrocarbons he was willing to offer a loan of $15 billion, and lower the price of natural gas from Russia. Putin had a couple of little preoccupations, however.

Read the rest here.

Also by Dr. Snyder, The New York Review of Books article (available online now) from the upcoming March 20th issue, “Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine”.

And there’s more — a prescient (February 26th) article in  Foreign Policy by Dr. Snyder, well worth reading: “Dear Kremlin: Careful with Crimea: Why a Russian intervention in southern Ukraine could rebound against Moscow”.

Dr. Snyder is Bird White Housum Professor of History at Yale, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in modern East European political history. For the 2013-14 academic year, he is the Philippe Roman Chair in History and International Affairs at the London School of Economics. Dr. Snyder authored The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999 (Yale Press, 2003), and helped the late Tony Judt with his posthumous Thinking the Twentieth Century (Penguin, 2012). More of Dr. Snyder’s writing at the NYRB, on Ukraine and other subjects, here.

Remembering Pete Seeger: “I’ve got a song to sing, all over this land”

Here’s an edited repeat of a post from May 2009 celebrating Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday; you can read the original here. I was saddened, though not surprised, to read last night of his death at age 94. His was one of those long lives well lived, and so many of ours were that much richer for his.

(I haven’t checked all of the links, so if any are broken, please let me know.)

*  *  *  *

Pete Seeger has been presence in my life since childhood with his records and music, and I still recall one marvelous autumn day when I was about nine or 10 and we got to meet him and listen to him sing at South Street Seaport (I think I remember a pier covered with pumpkins, and while I don’t remember the sloop Clearwater, I think it must have been there as well), well before it was fixed up and turned into a tourist destination. We were also fortunate to live down the street from Pete Seeger’s old friend, Brother Kirk (the Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick, who died in 1987), who would sit on the sidewalk with his guitar and give impromptu sidewalk concerts. Together the friends collaborated on a 1974 children’s album, “Pete Seeger & Brother Kirk Visit Sesame Street”.

As fascinating as Pete Seeger’s life story and career is his family.  He was the son of musicologist and composer of Charles Seeger and violinist Constance Edson; his stepmother was the noted composer Ruth Crawford Seeger;  his uncle Alan Seeger was the celebrated poet killed in World War I; his eldest brother Charles was a pioneering radio astronomer; his brother John, a longtime teacher at New York’s Dalton School, also founded Camp Killoleet in the Adirondacks; his half-sister is the singer Peggy Seeger; his half-brother is singer Mike Seeger.

No childhood is complete without Pete Seeger — for the music he has sung and written, for his sense of history,his family’s place in the history of American music, and his environmental and political activism.  You can listen to his music and listen to songs about America as it was, and America — and the world –  as it should be. Here’s a list, not nearly complete or comprehensive, of some of our favorite Pete Seeger records, books, and more.

Music especially for children:

“Abiyoyo and Other Story Songs for Children”

“American Folk, Game and Activity Songs”

“Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Fishes (Little and Big)”

“Folk Songs for Young People”

“Song and Play Time”

Pete Seeger’s “Children’s Concert at Town Hall”

Music for the entire family:

“American Favorite Ballads”, on five CDs

“Frontier Ballads”

“Headlines and Footnotes: A Collection of Topical Songs”

“If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and Struggle”

“Love Songs for Friends and Foes”

“Pete Seeger Sings Leadbelly”

“Sing Out!: Hootenanny with Pete Seeger and the Hooteneers”

“Traditional Christmas Carols”

Pete Seeger/The Weavers 3 CD box set

“Pete Seeger at 89″

Pete Seeger discography at Smithsonian Folkways.  By the way, SF has a new publication, “Folkways Magazine”, just debuted with the Spring 2009 issue, and the main article is “Pete Seeger: Standing Tall”

Pete Seeger discography and biography at Appleseed Records

Books (many of which are children’s picture books based on his songs):

Abiyoyo with accompanying CD; and Abiyoyo Returns

Turn! Turn! Turn! with accompanying CD

One Grain of Sand: A Lullaby

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: A Musical Autobiography

Pete Seeger’s Storytelling Book

His memoirsWhere Have All the Flowers Gone: A Singer’s Stories, Songs, Seeds, Robberies

The biography How Can I Keep from Singing?: The Ballad of Pete Seeger by David King Dunaway, the companion volume to the radio series produced by Dunaway (see below)

Audio and Video:

PBS’s American Masters episode: “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song”; now available on DVD

How Can I Keep from Singing?, the three-part radio series produced by David King Dunaway

“To Hear Your Banjo Play” (1947)

“How to Play the 5-String Banjo” DVD, Davy’s favorite; there’s also an accompanying book (not on film, but also instructive and instructional is Pete Seeger’s “The Folksinger’s Guitar Guide”)

At NPR; and the NPR appreciation, “Pete Seeger At 90″ by Lynn Neary and Tom Cole.  At the latter link, you’ll find a little orange box on the left with The Pete Seeger Mix, a “five-hour mix of Pete Seeger classics and covers” put together by NPR Music partner Folk Alley

Pete Seeger at the pre-inaugural concert for Barack Obama

Websites:

Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress, where Pete Seeger worked as an assistant in 1940

Clearwater, the organization Pete Seeger established in 1969 to preserve and protect the Hudson River

Bits and bobs:

Studs Terkel’s 2005 appreciation, in The Nation, of Pete Seeger’s 86th birthday

The New Yorker‘s 2006 profile, “The Protest Singer”, by Alec Wilkinson, and in hardcover

Pete Seeger’s biography at the Kennedy Center, where he was a Kennedy Center honor recipient in 1994

A re-(re)-post to celebrate 30 years of “A Christmas Story”: I triple-dog dare you

acs

(This month marks the 30th anniversary of the modern classic, “A Christmas Story”, one of my all-time favorite holiday movies. In fact, the older I get, the more I like it. So I’m reposting this from 2006 and 2008. I’ve checked and updated the links, and there’s some new content, too. Not to mention blog snow, which my daughter the far more successful blogger told me about. Merry merry from Farm School!)

New content!:

“‘A Christmas Story’ Turns 30″

NPR: Cleveland Celebrates 30 Years Of ‘A Christmas Story’

Video of  ‘A Christmas Story’ Pole Scene Re-Created on NYC Subway

Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen (author of the new Eminent Hipsters) wrote a Slate article last year, “The Man Who Told ‘A Christmas Story’: What I learned from Jean Shepherd”. Twelve-year-old Fagen was introduced to Shep’s radio show by his “weird uncle Dave”, “a bit of a hipster” himself…

The 30th anniversary Blu-Ray edition

“A Christmas Story”: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic by Caseen Gaines

Tyler Schwartz’s A Christmas Story Treasury from Running Press, a short scrapbook with recipe cards for Mom’s Christmas turkey, a replica of the telegram notifying the Old Man about his “major award”, and so on.

“A Christmas Story” 2014 wall calendar

The musical version of “A Christmas Story” returns to New York City, at Madison Square Garden from Dec. 11 to Dec. 29, featuring Dan Lauria (“The Wonder Years”) as the narrator

The tourist organization Positively Cleveland is celebrating the 30th anniversary, including a special Christmas Story run tomorrow (runners are encouraged to carry a Leg Lamp or wear a Bunny Costume), and a contest to Light up the Holidays in CLE. You can win (what else?) a Leg Lamp. Unfortunately, we’ve all missed the 30th Anniversary Celebration & Convention on Nov. 29-30.

From the ridiculous to the sublime: Jean Shepherd’s original November 25, 1963 WOR radio evening broadcast, where he spent almost an hour talking about the impact of JFK‘s presidency, and his death, on American life. An MPR documentary produced by Matt Sepic with the assistance of Shepherd’s biographer, Eugene Bergmann.

Flicklives’ A Salute to Jean Shepherd, featuring A Christmas Story page

And, as always, TBS will be running its annual 24-hour “A Christmas Story” marathon from Christmas Eve to Christmas evening.

* * *

From December 1, 2006:

Just in time for Christmas, the cockles of my heart warm to learn that one of my favorite holiday movies has come to life:

Switch on your leg lamp and warm up the Ovaltine. The Christmas Story House and Museum will be ready for visitors starting Saturday. Imagine being inside Ralphie Parker’s 1940s home on Christmas Day. Stand on the staircase where Ralphie modeled his hated bunny suit. See the table where Ralphie’s dad wanted to display his tacky leg lamp. Gaze out a back window at the shed where Black Bart hid out. …

This past weekend saw the grand opening of The Christmas Story House. The house, used primarily for exterior shots in the 1983 filming, was renovated to look just like Ralphie’s home in the movie by owner Brian Jones, a lifelong Christmas Story fan.

At the museum gift shop, you can buy a chocolate BB rifle or a replica leg lamp from Red Rider Leg Lamps, started by Jones in 2003. And, I hope, a copy of Jean Shepherd’s In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, on which the movie was based. Ho ho ho!

*  *  *

Interestingly, I had a comment on the post last month [2008] — while we were away — from the people at the tourist organization, Positively Cleveland, about their “What I Want for Christmas” essay contest, which had a December 3 deadline.

There were two contests, one for those ages 16 and under and one for those 17 older. Prizes for the junior set included, among other things, a $100 gift certificate to Pearl of the Orient, the official Chinese restaurant of A Christmas Story House and Museum; a four-pack of general admission tickets to A Christmas Story House and Museum; and a four-pack of general admission tickets to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.  No BB guns, however, because you’d shoot your eye out.

Prizes for the oldsters were pretty much the same, except a full-size leg lamp was substituted for the restaurant gift certificate.

Any fan of A Christmas Story has probably stumbled over the latest curiosities, two new fan flicks: Road Trip for Ralphie and Shooting Your Eye Out: The Untold Christmas Story.   Makes you wonder what Jean Shepherd might make of all this humbug.  Creeping meatballism, perhaps?

On the other hand, for pure unadulterated Shep, you can try the Jean Shepherd Netcast and The Brass Figlagee. Merry Christmas, fatheads!

Beginning the basement

This past weekend Tom and crew, including the kids, prepared the forms for pouring concrete on Tuesday,

IMG_2455

The bump-out, above at left, is the dining room. We’ve decided, based on our recent addition, that we prefer a dining room with windows on three sides — lots of light and lots to see. On the second floor, the bump-out will be our bathroom. The smaller rectangle at the bottom of the picture is part of the garage where our cold storage and three large plastic tanks/cisterns for rainwater collection will go, under the garage’s main floor.

The orange insulated tarps were for the cold weather and snow expected, and received, on Saturday night and Sunday,

IMG_2461

We needed more tarps, and when Tom couldn’t reach the local fellow who rents insulated tarps in time, Daniel found a deal on some tarps on Kijiji (Canadian Craigslist) and we made a quick, unexpected trip to the city Monday afternoon.

Tom was well pleased with his deal, and at least until it got dark, I was able to start reading Natasha Solomon’s latest, The Gallery of Vanished Husbands. I finally read her The Novel in the Viola (published as The House at Tyneford in the US) over the summer and enjoyed it very much — I have a weakness for stories about Vienna, and about England between and during the wars. The kids were happy because the tarp location was near the Cabela’s store, so we stopped in on the way home and somehow a pop-up ice fishing shelter ended up in our cart. We’re considering it an early Christmas present for them…

Speaking of the holidays to come, just received an email that Lee Valley is offering free shipping from today, Nov. 7th, to the 14th, in Canada and the US, on orders of at least $40.

Birds, classes, hearts and more

Laura did a four-week internship from mid-August to mid-September at the Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario, on Lake Erie, helping with migration monitoring as a volunteer field biologist. It was a follow-up to the 10-day young ornithologists’ workshop she did there last summer. This year’s internship was considerably more intense, not just because it was longer, but because Laura and the other interns and volunteers were working out of a bird banding station located on the tip of the Long Point peninsula, accessible only by motorboat. While they had electricity and running water, they didn’t have cell phone or internet service (so Laura was incommunicado for the first three weeks, which was an interesting experiment for me), and bathing and laundry happened in the lake.  They worked long days, seven days a week, doing bird and Monarch butterfly censusing, banding, data entry, as well as facility upkeep and maintenance (which meant that all the work around the house and farm, ability to cook and do chores, and a cheerful attitude came in handy). While I didn’t know about the incommunicado part, I did know that Laura would be out in the wilds for several weeks, and figured a first aid course might come in helpful, not only for her but for the people around her.

In May I started looking into the two-day St. John Ambulance first aid course. It’s generally offered as part of a local continuing education program, but they weren’t offering the course when I wanted it (late June, after 4H and theater wrapped up). A friend teaches the course and when I asked about hiring her privately, she asked if the boys would take it too. I figured why not, and then the course turned into a home schoolers class, with at least half a dozen other kids. It was a certificate course, which all three kids achieved, but I’m more interested in them having the knowledge and information they can use than the certificate. Very reassuring knowing that the kids, who are often on their own around the farm and the countryside (the boys each have a quad and motorbike now), have this knowledge, and it was one less thing to worry about with Laura several provinces away.

So it was interesting to hear a CBC radio news report this morning that more people survived cardiac arrests in Denmark after the country encouraged bystanders to step in and perform CPR. The study’s lead author, Dr. Mads Wissenberg of Copenhagen University Hospital Gentofte, said, “The main message from this study is that national initiatives to improve cardiac arrest management seem to have an impact with an increase in bystander CPR rates and survival rates.”

Medical officials in Denmark had noticed about 10 years ago that few people stepped in to perform CPR, with only a minority of cardiac arrest victims surviving for more than 30 days. In the United States, and I imagine numbers are proportional for Canada, about 300,000 people go into cardiac arrest every year and around 90 percent of those die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Heart Association says immediately starting CPR when a person goes into cardiac arrest  can double or triple that person’s chances of survival.

Denmark decided to start a campaign to increase the number of people who could perform CPR. The campaign included introducing mandatory training for elementary school students and driver’s license applicants, as well as distributing instructional training kits, offering telephone assistance to bystanders, and putting defibrillators in public places.

The radio show host discussing the news showed considerable surprise that elementary students would be targeted, and the show’s medical contributor said there’s some evidence that kids that young aren’t strong enough to do chest compressions. But from my own experience, not only are younger kids able to absorb and remember this information well — better than most distracted, multi-tasking adults can — but more enthusiastic than most adults about their knowledge. And if you start with elementary age kids, who take refresher courses as necessary, those without the strength will soon (by junior high and high school) have the strength to go with the knowledge.

When the boys found out that the continuing education program in town was offering a two-night/seven hour Canadian Firearms Safety course (a requirement to acquire non-restricted firearms, though not for a hunting license, which the kids are working toward, some more diligently than others). While I don’t expect the kids to be acquiring firearms any time soon, I did like that the course teaches basic firearms safety practices; safe handling and carry procedures; firing techniques and procedures; care of non-restricted firearms; responsibilities of the firearms owner/user; and safe storage, display, transportation and handling of non-restricted firearms. Laura returned just before the course and asked to take it too. Definitely a worthwhile course.

Daniel got his learner’s permit recently, and Laura will be able to get her graduated license next spring, two years after getting her learner’s permit (age 14 around here).

And later this month Laura takes a two-day women’s self-defense course, which seems like a good idea if she’s going to (as seems likely) spend more and more time far afield, in fields and elsewhere, on her own. So just a few courses and an internship the kids have taken since June.

In other course news, Laura has made arrangements to borrow a copy of the out-of-print, horribly expensive to purchase secondhand Handbook of Bird Biology so she can take the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s home study course in bird biology this year; it’s generally a six- to eight-month course.  A new, third edition of the the textbook (which is a doorstop) has been in the works for several years now, and Laura has been disappointed several times as the publishing date gets pushed off again and again. She doesn’t want to take any chances (the current publishing date is listed as spring 2014, but if they’re wrong, she won’t get a chance to finish the course by the time she graduates from high school, which is her goal), which is why she’s borrowing the book. Which wasn’t easy, either, and required considerable networking in the provincial birding community.

June

Harder

Saw the above today at Grain Edit by Muti and I love it. Available from Society6 as prints and as stretched canvases.

April and May zipped by alarmingly quickly. April was winter and May was summer, and spring somehow vanished. We’ve had hail already, and some fairly ominous weather.

The kids had the play (Wizard of Oz) which went very well, we all survived three days of 4H Beef Club achievement days/show/sale combined with a celebration of 4H’s centennial (the kids sold their steers, Laura won a showmanship award, Daniel received his silver award of excellence and Laura her gold, Davy and Laura won awards for their project books), we seeded our crops, planted and watered 985 little trees, planted two gardens and the potato patch, got the greenhouse up and running, are moving cattle to the various pastures, sorting out bulls, fixing fences. And oh, yes, school, along with some college/university planning, estate matters, and a variety of bird-related projects and trips for Laura. Our nest boxes are almost all occupied (Laura kicked some house sparrows out), and we have eggs and hatchlings everywhere.

Speaking of which, Laura was thrilled to that see her favorite birding radio show, Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds (which we first discovered as a podcast before wifi let her listen live on Sunday mornings), was the subject of a lovely feature article in The Boston Globe. There might be a quote from a young birder we know…

Also, if you’re in Canada and feeling inclined to support Bird Studies Canada in their national, provincial, and regional conservation and research efforts, Laura is participating in their annual Baillie Birdathon; her 24-hour birdathon was last week (she saw 84 species, four more than her stated goal), but donations will be accepted until the end of July.

This weekend the kids have their 4H Outdoor Club’s achievement day overnight camping trip, which they’re all looking forward to. Much scurrying about, sorting out sleeping bags and making their survival kits. Next week Daniel might be taking his learner’s permit test, which means that between him and his sister, I won’t be driving myself too much.

Some good books we’ve discovered:

Letters to a Young Scientist by E.O. Wilson (April 2013): somehow I stumbled across this in March and ordered it before publication. An inspiring, very personal little book for young scientists and their parents by the celebrated biologist and naturalist. Particularly helpful if the young scientist in your household happens to be especially keen on biology.

Two Laura found for her work with a Young Naturalists group, trying to get younger kids outdoors and interested in nature:

Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate (Candlewick, March 2013): brand new and delightful. Perfect for kids who think they might be interested in birds, and also for those who think there isn’t anything particularly exciting in their own backyard.

The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book: 448 Great Things to Do in Nature Before You Grow Up by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer (Falcon Guides, April 2013). For parents rather than kids, just the ticket if you need specific ideas on how to get started with your kids in the great outdoors.

I’ll leave you with another nifty poster, by Biljana Kroll, also available from Society6. Words to think about as some families’ formal studies come to an end for the summer.

NeverStop

National Poetry Month 2013

PoetryMonth2013

I haven’t written a National Poetry Month post in a good long time, not since 2010, though poetry is still an important part of our lives, both reading and learning by heart (the kids all recited poetry for the music festival last month, and did wonderfully). What follows is pretty much a re-run of 2010′s post, with a few changes – some bits and pieces from some of previous posts on National Poetry Month, with a few updates, and at the end links to various Farm School poetry posts (most of which you can find at the green “Poetry” tab at the very top of the blog on the right):

April, as always, brings May showers and…

National Poetry Month

brought to you as always by the Academy of American Poets.  You can request your own poster, designed by Jessica Helfand and featuring the line, “Write about your sorrows, you wishes, your passing thoughts, your belief in anything beautiful.” from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.

Poetry is like peace on earth, good will toward men.  It’s something we should read and enjoy year-round, not just in Spring and all, but for many of us, without the extra effort of a special day or month, it gets rather lost of the shuffle of daily living. The Academy of American Poets helpfully offers Poems for Every Occasion.

National Poetry Month is celebrated both in the US, under the auspices of the Academy of American Poets (whose page has oodles of links — some good ones are How to Read a Poem [often] and Tips for Booksellers), and in Canada, under the auspices of the League of Canadian Poets.

New for 2013:

Stefanie’s post, Celebrating Poetry, at her wonderful blog, So Many Books:

I know I kvetch now and then about how the designation does a disservice to poetry, corralling it into one month as though April is the only month one can bother to notice and read poetry. And while I still hold to that belief, at the same time I also think that if a month-long poetry blitz in schools and libraries touches just one child (or adult) and turns her/him on to poetry and inspires her/him to become a reader of poetry, then the month is worth it.

My old blog friend Gregory K. at GottaBook celebrates the month with his annual 30 Poets/30 Days celebration.  You can find last year’s celebration here.

Caroline Kennedy has a new children’s poetry book out: Poems to Learn by Heart, illustrated with paintings by Jon J. Muth. See below for CK’s other collections.

And don’t forget last year’s anthology, Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart by Mary Ann Hoberman (American children’s poet laureate from 2008-2010), illustrated by Michael Emberley.

The current Cybils children’s poetry book winner is BookSpeak!: Poems About Books by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Josee Bisaillon. The list of all the poetry nominees is here, and Ms. Salas has a free extras for the book here.

Crayola’s activity pages for National Poetry Month 2013 include coloring pages of Langston Hughes and Edgar Allan Poe and a Poem in My Pocket craft.

Poetry Friday is celebrated in the blogosphere all year, every year, and you can read more here and here (where you can also find the current schedule).  For all of the Farm School Poetry Friday posts, just type “Poetry Friday” in the search box above.

A few years ago, poet J. Patrick Lewis asked, “Can Children’s Poetry Matter?” in the journal Hunger Mountain. It’s aimed toward parents with children in school, but there’s still much that parents who home school can learn:

American children grow up in a country that poetry forgot—or that forgot poetry. The reasons are not far to seek. I have visited four hundred American elementary schools here and abroad as a latter day Pied Piper for verse, and I can confirm that too many teachers still swear allegiance to an old chestnut: the two worst words in the language when stuck side by side are “poetry” and “unit.” …

Children rarely gravitate to poetry on their own. It’s an acquired taste. They must be introduced to it early and often by their teachers and parents, the critical influences in their lives. And not in the way Billy Collins has memorably described — and vilified — by tying poems to chairs and beating them senseless until they finally give up their meaning. We do not look to poetry to find answers or absolutes. Nor do we investigate verse with calipers and a light meter, though at least one benighted school of thought has tried. …

But any genre buried in unread books is useless. Make poetry a habit with students. If children are reading poetry they find insipid or pointless, they naturally reject it for the playground. Let them choose their own verse favorites. Encourage volunteers to read them. Open a Poetry Café, no textbooks allowed. Ask students to ask their parents for their favorite poems. Then invite the parents to the classroom/café to read them.

Go to the source:  Seek out the poetry lovers among teachers and discover the strategies that have worked best for them.

Read the rest of Pat’s essay here, and then go back to the list of the Cybils children poetry book nominees, write them down or print them off and head to your favorite bookseller or library. I have to say, Crayola continues to surprise the heck out of me by doing this every year.

Some of our family’s favorite poetry resources:

Poetry Speaks: Hear Great Poets Read Their Work, from Tennyson to Plath (book and three CDs), edited by Elise Paschen (2007 saw a new expanded edition)

Poetry Speaks to Children (book and CD), edited by Elise Paschen

A Child’s Introduction to Poetry: Listen While You Learn About the Magic Words That Have Moved Mountains, Won Battles, and Made Us Laugh and Cry (book and CD), edited by Michael Driscoll and illustrated by Meredith Hamilton

A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children, edited by Caroline Kennedy and illustrated by Jon J. Muth

The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, edited by Caroline Kennedy

Poetry Out Loud, edited by Robert Alden Rubin

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Eric Beddows

Favorite Poems Old and New, edited by Helen Ferris

The Caedmon Poetry Collection: A Century of Poets Reading Their Work (audio CD); ignore the publisher’s sloppy labeling job and just sit back and listen

Seven Ages: An Anthology of Poetry with Music (audio CD) by Naxos AudioBooks

Voice of the Poet: Robert Frost (audio cd), from Random House’s “Voice of the Poet” series
Voice of the Poet: Langston Hughes (audio CD), from Random House’s “Voice of the Poet” series; search for “Voice of the Poet” at Powell’s, Amazon, B&N for the rest of the series.

Poetry for Young People series; includes volumes of poetry by Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Coleridge, Longfellow, and more.  Very nicely done and perfect for strewing about the house.

Emily by Michael Bedard and illustrated by the marvelous Barbara Cooney
The Mouse of Amherst by Elizabeth Spires (out of print now but well worth finding)
“The Belle of Amherst” on DVD; Julie Harris in the one-woman stage production about the life and poetry of Emily Dickinson

“The Barretts of Wimpole Street” (1934) on video or on television, starring Norma Shearer as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Frederic March as Robert Browning; a travesty that it’s not on dvd
The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning, illustrated by Kate Greenaway

You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You by John Ciardi and illustrated by the fabulous Edward Gorey
How Does a Poem Mean? by John Ciardi; out of print for some crazy reason…

Talking to the Sun: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems for Young People, edited by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell; another out of print gem
Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?: Teaching Great Poetry to Children by Kenneth Koch
Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry by Kenneth Koch
Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry by Kenneth Koch

Beyond Words: Writing Poems with Children by Elizabeth McKim and Judith Steinbergh; out of print (try your library)

A Crow Doesn’t Need a Shadow: A Guide to Writing Poetry from Nature by Lorraine Ferra and Diane Boardman

Magnetic Poetry (something for everyone)

Poetry podcasts and other online audio poetry:

From my old blog friend Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Childrenpoetry podcasts

The Library of Congress’s guide to online poetry audio recordings

The Academy of American Poets “Poetcast”

The Poetry Foundation’s podcasts and audio selections

Cloudy Day Art podcasts

Houghton Mifflin’s “The Poetic Voice”

HarperAudio!, where you can hear Ossie Davis read Langston Hughes, Peter Ustinov read James Thurber, and Dylan Thomas read his own works

The UK Poetry Archive, which includes lots of American poetry and poets too

BBC’s “Poetry Out Loud”

PennSound

Learn Out Loud’s “Intro to Poetry” podcast

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer’s Poetry Series podcasts

Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac podcasts

First World War Digital Poetry Archive podcasts

Poetry at NPR

KCRW’s Bookworm podcast

*  *  *

Previous National Poetry Month celebrations and other Poetry Posts at Farm School (you can also click the green “Poetry” page link up above, second from the right over the carrot leaves):

National Poetry Month 2009: Essential Pleasures and Happy National Poetry month!

Something different, a list of poetry books and other poetic resources

How I got my kids to like poetry and broccoli

Poetry sings

More poetry aloud, with PennSound

Poetry Is Life, and some Great Books too

A monthlong celebration of delight and glory and oddity and light (National Poetry Month 2008)

Adding even more poetry to your life, just in time for National Poetry Month (NPM 2006)

“Feed the lambs”: On the difference between poems for children and children’s poetry, Part 1 and Part 2

Thoughts on The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems and classic poetry

An appreciation of John Updike and light verse

Langston Hughes, the “social poet”

Eugene Field, “the children’s poet”, and his plea for the classics, for ambitious boys and girls

Robert Browning, with another plea and an explanation of how children learn best

You can also use the “category” clicker on the sidebar at left to find all of the Farm School Poetry and Poetry Friday posts

Ruthless rhymes*

British children’s author Terry Deary, of Horrible Histories and Truly Terrible Tales fame, has in recent years made a second career of curmudgeonly, controversial statements. The Guardian once called him “proudly anti-establishment”. A bigger cynic than I might smell a regular effort to drum up publicity to sell more books.

Deary, a one-time teacher, told The Guardian 10 years ago,

I’ve no interest in schools. They have no relevance in the 21st century. They were a Victorian idea to get kids off the street. Who decided that putting 30 kids with only their age in common in a classroom with one teacher was the best way of educating? At my school there were 52 kids in the class and all I learned was how to pass the 11-plus. Testing is the death of education.

Kids should leave school at 11 and go to work. Not down the mines or up chimneys, mind, but working with computers or something relevant. Everything I learned after 11 was a waste of time. Trigonometry, Boyle’s law: it’s never been of any use to me. They should have been teaching me the life skills I was going to need, such as building relationships, parenting and managing money. I didn’t have a clue about any of these things at 18. Schools need to change.

In 2010, the author, who writes children’s history books, took on historians, whom he called “nearly as seedy and devious as politicians”: “They pick on a particular angle and select the facts to prove their case and make a name for themselves… . They don’t write objective history. Eventually you can see through them all. They all come with a twist.”

Then, he spoke out against the use of his history books in schools: “Horrible Histories writer Terry Deary said he does not want teachers to recommend his books, and would prefer children to discover them themselves. … ‘I shudder when I hear my books are used in those pits of misery and ignorance’.”

Latest up on Mr. Deary’s hit list, and also Vilely Victorian, are libraries. In Sunderland, where Deary was born and where libraries now face the threat of closure as councillors get ready to vote on proposed service reforms, last week Deary told the local newspaper, The Sunderland Echo, that the future of reading belongs to ebooks. And a few other choice words, unlike the other Sunderland authors who spoke in favor of saving library services:

Libraries have had their day. They are a Victorian idea and we are in an electronic age. They either have to change and adapt or they have to go.

I know some people like them but fewer and fewer people are using them and these are straightened times. A lot of the gush about libraries is sentimentality.

The book is old technology and we have to move on, so good luck to the council.

Left here, the matter might have raised eyebrows. But The Guardian picked up the story, with Alison Flood speaking further with Deary, whose additional comments have raised a furor,

I’m not attacking libraries, I’m attacking the concept behind libraries, which is no longer relevant. Because it’s been 150 years [since the passage of the UK's Public Libraries Act in 1850], we’ve got this idea that we’ve got an entitlement to read books for free, at the expense of authors, publishers and council tax payers. This is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature. We pay for compulsory schooling to do that.

And of course we know how he feels about that.

People have to make the choice to buy books. People will happily buy a cinema ticket to see Roald Dahl’s Matilda, and expect to get the book for free. It doesn’t make sense. Books aren’t public property, and writers aren’t Enid Blyton, middle-class women indulging in a pleasant little hobby. They’ve got to make a living. Authors, booksellers and publishers need to eat. We don’t expect to go to a food library to be fed.

Enid Blyton seems a curious choice, and possibly one of the worst examples to choose. In fact, it’s hard to come up with an English children’s author in the past century who was more ruthless about her own writing success, willing to throw husbands and daughters under the proverbial bus. Which seems rather apt, under the circumstances.

Getting back to The Guardian article, Alison Flood notes,

As one of the most popular library authors – his books were borrowed more than 500,000 times during 2011/12 – Deary will have received the maximum amount possible for a writer from the Public Lending Right scheme, which gives authors 6.2p every time one of their books is borrowed, up to a cap of £6,600. “If I sold the book I’d get 30p per book. I get six grand, and I should be getting £180,000. But never mind my selfish author perception – what about the bookshops? The libraries are doing nothing for the book industry. They give nothing back, whereas bookshops are selling the book, and the author and the publisher get paid, which is as it should be. What other entertainment do we expect to get for free?” he asked.

This is probably where all the American authors’ heads’ whipped around. Public lending right? What public lending right? Because the concept doesn’t exist in the United States.

(By the way, and because I can never leave well enough alone, I hopped over to Deary’s website, where actually he seems quite pleased to announce,

Stop Press …
The Public Lending Rights figures for 2012 have been released. They list the number of times books are borrowed from British Libraries. Terry Deary is the 12th most borrowed author last year and the 7th most borrowed children’s author. His titles are more borrowed than Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton in childrens’ books or Lee Child and Harlan Coben (Terry’s own favourite writer) in the combined lists.

Take that, Enid Blyton. And now back to The Guardian article,

Bookshops are closing down, he said, “because someone is giving away the product they are trying to sell. What other industry creates a product and allows someone else to give it away, endlessly? The car industry would collapse if we went to car libraries for free use of Porsches … Librarians are lovely people and libraries are lovely places, but they are damaging the book industry. They are putting bookshops out of business, and I’m afraid we have to look at what place they have in the 21st century.”

Deary is calling for a public debate around libraries, and for an end to the “sentimentality” he believes has framed the issue so far. “Why are all the authors coming out in support of libraries when libraries are cutting their throats and slashing their purses?” he asked. “We can’t give everything away under the public purse. Books are part of the entertainment industry. Literature has been something elite, but it is not any more. This is not the Roman empire, where we give away free bread and circuses to the masses. People expect to pay for entertainment. They might object to TV licences, but they understand they have to do it. But because libraries have been around for so long, people have this idea that books should be freely available to all. I’m afraid those days are past. Libraries cost a vast amount … and the council tax payers are paying a lot of money to subsidise them, when they are used by an ever-diminishing amount of people.”

On the one hand, Deary is asking for a public debate about libraries. And yet. And yet…

On the other, he seems to want an end to “giving away” “free” books, which sounds more like an edict than debate. As he told The Sunderland Echo after The Guardian article appeared,

 I never attacked libraries, I said we need to think about people’s access to literature. I don’t see poor people in libraries, I see middle class people with their arms stuffed like looters.

It rather sounds as if he wants that £173,400 back, doesn’t it? Well, that and, erm, maybe the renewed health of the British bookselling industry? Yes! That!

Not surprisingly, the article had 364 comments last I checked. Not nearly as much fun, though, as the comments over at Mumsnet, which are veddy, veddy British and veddy, veddy funny.

Then there’s this, a sort of agreement cum apology cum explanation, from British illustrator Shoo Rayner who once worked with Terry Deary,

Terry is a Card-carrying, old-school renegade. He’ll make a stand against anything that looks like authority just to make a bit of noise. I’m afraid that Terry, is just “being Terry.” You have to remember that Terry is an actor first and foremost and he loves a bit of drama.

Terry is more a manufacturer of commodities than what one imagines an author to be. At the height of the Horrible Histories fame, he set his researchers going at a new subject on the first of each month. Then, together they cobbled up a new book with a snappy title and added it to the production line. Librarians loved them, bought them in droves and promoted them like nothing else. Now they don’t have the funds to buy more of Terry’s books, Terry rails at them for lending out his books. He claims to have lost £180,000 a year in lost book sales because Libraries lend them out! Well, of course that’s not true. People who borrow books for free wouldn’t go out and buy them. And it’s a little ungracious of him, he would have to spend that much every year in marketing and publicity just to buy the promotion that Libraries have given him for free all these years.

But all the same Terry is expressing the little voice of doubt that nags away at all authors and librarians. Authors, publishers and librarians don’t know what to do. The Tsunami of the internet, for so long a problem that would have to be dealt with one day, is building a giant wave in front of our eyes and it is starting to crash all around us. Libraries let the computers in a long time ago. Appeasement hasn’t worked – it never does!

Ah, so it’s just Terry being Terry, the manufacturer of commodities, making a bit of noise. But there are consequences when one is a best-selling author, and when councillors, cabinet meetings, and consultation periods are seeking informed advice. Do they really need to be distracted by “noise” at this important time, with some of the city’s 20 libraries on the line?

And perhaps another round of Blitzed Brits is in order as a refresher course, since libraries accommodating to the internet in the 21st century are in no way akin to Neville Chamberlain on the road to Munich. Sometimes, an umbrella is just an umbrella. (Does a reflex appeal to horrors of appeasement still work with Britons, 75 years on?) Yes, the world, and libraries, are changing. Budgets are smaller. But the answer isn’t to do away with libraries entirely. Moreover, in another bit of news, many keen readers check out books at the library and then do buy them, having ensured they’re something we’d like to spend money on. We just don’t like buying a pig in a poke.

No, I’m not going to use any more space and time here to explain how I feel about libraries, other than to say, we are not amused. But I will mention something else interesting I found on his website, under “Latest News”, which does indeed make me smell a publicity ploy: the tidbit that at the beginning of this month, as of February 1, “Terry start[ed] a new career — as a writer of adult books. He has been contracted to publish an entertaining new series of history books for adults. Over the next two years he will be writing the first four books in the series, starting with The Roman Empire to be published this November.”

Is this the part where we congratulate Mr. Deary and wish him every success on his latest endeavour? Or just wish him well with the gladitorial combat…

* with apologies to Harry Graham (1874-1936), author of the “cheerfully cruel” Ruthless Rhymes

Surviving the amphitheater

On the CBC radio show Q this morning (podcast here), host Jian Ghomeshi spoke with New York Magazine author Jennifer Senior on her recent article, “Why You Never Truly Leave High School”, which had been languishing on my list of things to read but jumped up immediately. I was intrigued to find a mention of home schooling in the article. Here’s an excerpt from the article (emphases mine):

Until the Great Depression, the majority of American adolescents didn’t even graduate from high school. Once kids hit their teen years, they did a variety of things: farmed, helped run the home, earned a regular wage. Before the banning of child labor, they worked in factories and textile mills and mines. All were different roads to adulthood; many were undesirable, if not outright Dickensian. But these disparate paths did arguably have one virtue in common: They placed adolescent children alongside adults. They were not sequestered as they matured. Now teens live in a biosphere of their own. In their recent book Escaping the Endless Adolescence, psychologists Joseph and Claudia Worrell Allen note that teenagers today spend just 16 hours per week interacting with adults and 60 with their cohort. One century ago, it was almost exactly the reverse.

Something happens when children spend so much time apart from adult company. They start to generate a culture with independent values and priorities. James Coleman, a renowned mid-century sociologist, was among the first to analyze that culture in his seminal 1961 work, The Adolescent Society, and he wasn’t very impressed. “Our society has within its midst a set of small teen-age societies,” he wrote, “which focus teen-age interests and attitudes on things far removed from adult responsibilities.” Yes, his words were prudish, but many parents have had some version of these misgivings ever since, especially those who’ve consciously opted not to send their kids into the Roman amphi­theater. (From the website of the National Home Education Network: “Ironically, one of the reasons many of us have chosen to educate our own is precisely this very issue of socialization! Children spending time with individuals of all ages more closely resembles real life than does a same-age school setting.”)

In fact, one of the reasons that high schools may produce such peculiar value systems is precisely because the people there have little in common, except their ages. “These are people in a large box without any clear, predetermined way of sorting out status,” says Robert Faris, a sociologist at UC Davis who’s spent a lot of time studying high-school aggression. “There’s no natural connection between them.” Such a situation, in his view, is likely to reward aggression. Absent established hierarchies and power structures (apart from the privileges that naturally accrue from being an upperclassman), kids create them on their own, and what determines those hierarchies is often the crudest common-­denominator stuff—looks, nice clothes, prowess in sports—­rather than the subtleties of personality. “Remember,” says Crosnoe, who spent a year doing research in a 2,200-student high school in Austin, “high schools are big. There has to be some way of sorting people socially. It’d be nice if kids could be captured by all their characteristics. But that’s not realistic.”

I’ve been intrigued by this subject since the kids reached school age and we started home schooling. I’ve read, digested, agreed with, and often recommended Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Doctors Neufeld and Mate. I also read and reviewed (briefly) The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen by Robert Epstein, a psychologist and former editor-in-chief of Pyschology Today magazine. Coleman’s The Adolescent Society (subtitled The Social Life of the Teenager and its Impact on Education sounds interesting, especially coming only six years after “Rebel without a Cause” and “Blackboard Jungle”.

Most of us who home school have heard from non-home schooling parents that it’s the everyday school interactions that “prepare” kids for real life. Senior writes,

Maybe, perversely, we should be grateful that high school prepares us for this life. The isolation, the shame, the aggression from those years—all of it readies us to cope. But one also has to wonder whether high school is to blame; whether the worst of adult America looks like high school because it’s populated by people who went to high school in America. We’re recapitulating the ugly folkways of this institution, and reacting with the same reflexes, because that’s where we were trapped, and shaped, and misshaped, during some of our most vulnerable years.

The most poignant part of the NYM article? “It’s also abundantly, poignantly clear that during puberty, kids have absolutely no clue how to assess character or read the behavior of others. … So much of what they think they know about others’ opinions of them is plain wrong.”

The article is well worth a read, if you have teens in the house, if you will have teens, or even if you were once one yourself. And, as the article points out, if there’s any chance you may be headed to a nursing home in the future. As sociologist Robert Faris points out, “It’s not adolescence that’s the problem. It’s the giant box of strangers.”

Winter

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After lolling and lazing about over the Christmas holidays, it was back to work for the New Year. We took several of our finished steers to the packers for customers who wanted organic beef. We’ve been selling halves and whole steers, and also combination packages. The kids helped us with some of the packages and we got a proper assembly line going. Have also sold some of our broiler chickens, and a trailer is coming for a dozen or so finished steers this weekend. Laura’s pullets, which arrived as day-old chicks in August, started laying last month and everyone, family and customers alike, are all happy that our egg drought is over. More January stuff:

:: Lots of curling. The kids have after-schooling curling on Tuesday afternoons, junior league curling Monday night (the three are curling with a friend and doing well, they start playoffs next week), and curling with Tom on Wednesdays for the men’s league. And various bonspiels on the weekend; we just had the local junior bonspiel, and the boys won the junior high division curling with two friends (and got second place overall for points), and Laura got second place in the senior high division. More curling up between now and mid-March, and my mother-in-law won some tickets to the Brier, so Tom and the kids will probably be going to at least one game in the big city.

:: Getting ready for 4H public speaking in two clubs. Laura has two speeches, one on antibiotic resistance in beef and the other on her time at the Young Ornithologists’ Workshop last summer. The boys are doing a presentation together for one club (How to Make Jerky), and speeches for the other (Daniel on M. Bombardier and his snowmobiles, Davy on the history of root beer).

:: I wear two hats for the music festival, promotions co-ordinator (getting information packages with syllabi out to families and teachers) and mother. Registration went well the other week (numbers down a bit), and after 4H public speaking is done, the kids will hit the memorizing hard. I’m going to use Laura’s help again with promotions — last year she baked some chocolate chip cookies which we delivered to the local newspapers with the press releases.

:: The big library remodel is done and it looks wonderful. The library hadn’t had a facelift of any sort since it was first built in the early eighties, so this was long overdue. We were lucky to have a librarian and staff with vision and determination to take this on. I’ve been on the board for years and have thought every now and then of stepping down, but am so glad I stuck around. Well, except for the part about being on the policy committee and starting a review of all our policies this month. Ugh.

:: Planning meetings for the fair for three of us. Committee budgets to approve, hall booklet to change, sponsors to sweet talk.

:: Laura was invited by her aunt to the season home opener of the Edmonton Oilers, great fun even if they didn’t win…

:: I had “pre-ordered” (nasty term) the latest Flavia de Luce novel, Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley, for Laura, and it arrived last week. I also bought her the dvd of the documentary, “Birders: The Central Park Effect”, since we don’t have cable/satellite television, it’s not available on YouTube in Canada, and there’s no chance any of the libraries in our library system will bring in such an American item.

:: latest documentaries for school: “Bowling for Columbine” and “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

:: latest reading for school: George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language”, which I think the kids are all ready for. I’m using my old copy of The Orwell Reader, which I bought because of the introduction by Richard Rovere, the subject of my senior history thesis in university. Happily, The Reader is still in print. I think along with the essay we’ll read this recent Guardian article by Steven Poole, and Frank Luntz’s recent Washington Post piece, “Why Republicans Should Watch Their Language”. And why citizens should watch very carefully when politicians start to watch, and change, their language.

Another book on the list, Mrs. Mike, very Canadian, very gritty, very plucky…

:: More in the learning to be a good consumer department: we’ve started watching a few older TV shows at lunchtime — last month CTV was airing episodes of Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s “Til Debt Do Us Part” and then switched over to “Princess”. Quite eye-opening for the kids on the evils of credit and spending more than you make. Followed up with “Property Virgins”, where no-one seems to have heard of starter houses and everyone wants stainless steel appliances and granite countertops.

:: The college in town is celebrating its centennial and as part of the festivities they organized what’s hoped to be a Guinness world record giant toboggan run; the toboggan itself was 36′ long (that’s Davy at the top of this post, tucked in just inside the front curve of the giant sled) and had to slide 100 meters. Tom was asked to take official measurements and the kids went along for the fun,

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The kids with the giant toboggan,

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Coming up later this month:

:: dogsledding as part of the 4H Outdoor club

:: a hands-on six-hour calving course for the kids, at the local agricultural college

:: annual organic farming recertification, aka a pile of paperwork, sigh…

Recent nifty discoveries:

Paper roller coasters

Bar Keeper’s Friend; I had used this before moving to Canada but until last fall never saw it on Canadian store shelves, at least not on the prairies. I spotted it at Home Depot a few months ago, and it’s been the best thing for my kitchen sink, which after 14 years, had some pretty stubborn stains after cherry and berry season.  It’s also the best, easiest, and least toxic cleanser I’ve found in 18 years to use on rust stains from our well water.

It’s light out now until at least 5:30. In December it was getting dark just after 4 pm. And sunrise is now around 8 am instead of an hour later, and by the end of the month the sun will be up before 7:30. Hooray!

Blueberry Oatmeal Squares, from CBC’s show, Best Recipes Ever; Laura made these twice in three days, doubling the recipe the second time. The perfect way to use the gallons of blueberries etc I froze last summer.

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Butter and twinkle lights: Nora Ephron, 1941-2012

From Nora Ephron’s October 1980 essay, “A Few Words about Elizabeth Bennet”*, inspired by that year’s BBC production starring Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth Bennet and David Rintoul as Fitzwilliam Darcy. “A Few Words” shows the magic and power of Ephron as Everywoman — personal yet universal.

The other day they sent me a photograph of the actress who plays Miss Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, and I took one look at it and threw it into the garbage can. All things considered, this was a mild response. I have spent twenty years knowing exactly what Elizabeth Bennet looks like, and she does not look a bit like this person they have gotten to play her. She looks like me.

It has been possible for me to persist in this delusion as long as I have partly because I love Elizabeth Bennet and partly because Jane Austen, who created her, managed to leave out of her novel any detailed physical description of her heroine. She does write that Lizzy is not as beautiful as her sister Jane and that she has fine eyes — there’s much made of those fine eyes — and a pleasant figure. But there’s not a word about whether she is short or tall, blond or brunette; not a word about her nose or her lips; and while the fine eyes are said to be dark, there is not a word as to whether they are dark brown, or dark blue, or dark green, or dark lavender, or the color I happen to know them to be, which is dark hazel.

                                                           .      .       .

I fell in love with Elizabeth Bennet the first time I read Pride and Prejudice, and I have read the book at least once year ever since. “It is a truth universally acknowledged,” the book begins, “that a single man n possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” That glorious sentence is a threshold into Austen’s world, a world of manners and domestic arrangements, a world where nothing — not politics nor war, which are simply not mentioned — is as important as the right match. Each time I cross into this word I bring to it the same intensity and sense of suspense I felt the first time through. I cannot put the book down. I am on tenterhooks about Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. I am stunned by what becomes of Wickham. I am captivated by Elizabeth’s father and appalled by her mother. I am furious at Miss Bingley. And when it becomes clear that things will work out, the lovers will triumph — when Elizabeth unexpectedly meets Mr. Darcy while walking through Pemberley and realizes his feelings for her are unchanged — I cry.

All this may say more about me and my rather dippy capacity for romance than it does about the book, but I doubt it: Pride and Prejudice is one of the greatest romantic comedies ever written, a novel about the possibility of love between equals, and in many ways it is the forerunner of a genre it was undoubtedly instrumental in creating. Two strong-willed people — one of them rich, the other not — meet and take an instant dislike to each other. She reacts by being arch and provocative; he is attracted by her audacity, her playfulness, her intellect, and, as Elizabeth reminds Mr. Darcy at the end of the book, her bad manners. “You may as well call it impertinence at once,” she says. “The fact is that you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking and looking and thinking for your approbation alone.” Eventually — after a long push and pull, half a dozen misunderstandings, and one explosive rejection — the lovers soften ever so slightly, acknowledge themselves to be possessed of at least one flaw apiece, and realize they were meant for each other, class distinctions aside.

What a lovely fantasy this plot is! It is the dream of any woman who has ever wanted to believe that what really matters is not beauty but brains, not flirtation but wit; it is the dream of every young woman who has ever been a wallflower. Indeed, when Elizabeth first meets Mr. Darcy, she is exactly that: She is sitting on the sidelines at a dance when she is pointed out to him, and to her amusement she hears his comment on her looks: “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.” It is also the dream of every young woman who has ever worried she would never marry; for her the sister who is most serious, most thoughtful, most sensitive, is rewarded in the end by the very thing she has been shown to care least about — a rich husband. And for a moment — in spite of the many examples in Austen’s work to the contrary — we are allowed to believe in the likelihood of a great marriage. “I know your disposition, Lizzy,” Elizabeth’s father tells her. “I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable unless you truly esteemed your husband, unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery. My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.”

(The plot of Pride and Prejudice and the scrappy, feisty dialogue that characterizes Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s relationship — the skittering banter, the deft back and forth — have been imitated in thousands of novels that have been written since and dozens of movies: It Happened One Night, with Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable; The Lady Vanishes, with Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave; Woman of the Year, with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. In these movies the convention is reversed: The part of the not-rich person is played by the man, and he is the first to be arch and impertinent, she is the prideful snob. For the most perfect illustration of what might happen to an Elizabeth and a Mr. Darcy after they marry, see The Thin Man, with William Powell and Myrna Loy.)

I may be deluded about the similarity between Elizabeth Bennet’s looks and mine, but I have never been as foolish on the question of character. Hers is far superior to mine. Her flaw is that she is too quick to form opinions based on first impressions; in short, that she is prejudiced. And that is her only flaw. I have at least a dozen as serious as that and a few far worse. The Austen character I most resemble, I am sorry to say, is not Elizabeth Bennet but Emma Woodhouse, of Emma. Now there’s a woman with flaws: She’s manipulative, bossy, and controlling. There are few Austen lovers who do not believe Emma to be Austen’s finest work, but I have always been grumpy about it; it’s too close to home. I prefer my literary heroines to be perfect, unlike me; and Lizzy is as close to perfect as she can be and still be interesting. In fact, I consider her flaw so minor that the first time I read Pride and Prejudice I assumed that both nouns in the title referred to Mr. Darcy. Who, after all, could blame Elizabeth for thinking ill of a man who insulted her at a dance? Who could think her genuinely prejudiced? Not I, that’s who.

Recently, I was reading a novel by by one of the most shrill of the feminist writers, who complained in it that there were no more Mr. Darcys. There are probably no more Elizabeth Bennets either. What’s more, there were probably none in the first place. Which is wonderful. It means that those of us who would love to be like her can never feel too bad that we aren’t; no one is. That’s what makes Lizzy so lovable: She doesn’t exist.

Not so surprisingly, Pride and Prejudice made it onto Ms. Ephron’s list of “What I Will Miss” in her last book,  I Remember Nothing, published in 2010 several years after the onset of her leukemia:

What I Will Miss

My kids
Nick
Spring
Fall
Waffles
The concept of waffles
Bacon
A walk in the park
The idea of a walk in the park
The park
Shakespeare in the Park
The bed
Reading in bed
Fireworks
Laughs
The view out the window
Twinkle lights
Butter
Dinner at home just the two of us
Dinner with friends
Dinner with friends in cities where none of us lives
Paris
Next year in Istanbul
Pride and Prejudice
The Christmas tree
Thanksgiving dinner
One for the table
The dogwood
Taking a bath
Coming over the bridge to Manhattan
Pie

Thank you to Nora Ephron for all the laughs, in print and at the movies, and for my lifetime fixation with the semi-colon.

* From my copy of Nora Ephron Collected, 1991, moved from Washington, DC to NYC to the prairies

May daybook

No, I have no idea what happened to April. A very short, very fast month.

Outside my window…

Spring was springier in March, which came in like a lamb and went out like a lion. April very lionish as well, at least weatherwise — cool, blustery, and dry. May so far is cool, blustery, and wettish.

We’re finished calving and that went fairly smoothly. The kids are busy working with their steers and other cattle (they each have a steer and Laura also has a heifer and a cow-calf pair) for 4H beef club achievement days at the end of the month. Yesterday was the annual 4H highway cleanup, where kids clean up months’ of litter tossed out of vehicles by irresponsible adults.

From the schoolroom…

I think I mentioned in my last post that we read To Kill a Mockingbird which the boys in particular seemed to enjoy. We followed that up with the movie, and then, because everyone quite liked Gregory Peck, we had a special screening of “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” with a discussion of anti-Semitism in North America. Next up in American movie studies, and continuing with courtroom drama, we have “12 Angry Men” with Henry Fonda.

For political science/current events, between the American presidential campaign and our recent roller coaster provincial election (the Progressive Conservatives were a lock to win, the Wild Rose Party all of a sudden came out of nowhere and was poised to win a majority, the PCs ended up winning a majority, oy), the kids are all now old enough (Daniel just turned 13) to make it through George Orwell’s celebrated 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language”, which they are now reading, writing, and discussing their ways through. I also managed to find a copy of Frank Luntz’s Words that Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear in the library system, which is good, because I had no desire to further enrich Mr. Luntz by having to purchase the book. I disagree mightily with his methods, all the more reason it’s important to understand them, and how to parse the rhetoric, especially for young future voters.

For something a bit lighter, our new readaloud is a rereading of My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, which Davy scarcely remembers.

I let Laura pick the Shakespeare play for spring, and she chose Romeo and Juliet. Although Davy had his reservations, he and his brother were transfixed by a story that had more violence and adolescent hotheadedness than romance. In addition to readings, we also watched the Zeffirelli version, followed by the Leonardo di Caprio version which all three kids found very unsettling for various reasons (Florida, the music, the abridging, and “That’s Temple Grandin?”). We’re going to add in a showing of  “West Side Story”, even though it’s in fairly regular rotation in this house, and also tossed in another viewing of “Much Ado” this time for comparison purpose the benefits of age, maturity, and waiting a bit). We found “Shakespeare in Love” at the library the other week, which is centered around Romeo and Juliet, and Laura now wants to see “Twelfth Night”, which is mentioned at the end; we’ll see what versions the library has. And I discovered that our library system has a DVD copy of “Romeo and Juliet” with Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer; I think the boys are Romeo’d out, but Laura would probably enjoy this version if only to see what it looks like with MGM’s long-in-the-tooth teens.

We are beavering away at math, with decimals, percents, pre-algebra, and algebra. This year isn’t as easy for Laura as last year, but I’ve seen the lightbulb go on about having to work on a subject despite the difficulties and drudgery with her realization that she likely will pursue some sort of career in wildlife biology.

Which reminds me, have just ordered a copy of the newly (as in last week) published Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture by Robert Bruce Thompson. Mr. Thompson has a biology lab kit available for those living in the US, and is also working on his forthcoming title, Illustrated Guide to Home Forensic Science Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture (which will also have an accompanying kit available). According to Mr. Thompson, the Illustrated Guide is “intended to be used in conjunction with a standard first-year biology textbook. The book coordinates well with Miller-Levine Biology and the free CK-12 Biology, which are the two texts we recommend, but it’s easy enough to coordinate with any of the common homeschool biology textbooks”.

For whatever it’s worth, we have and use Stephen Nowicki’s biology text (bought cheaply secondhand at Abebooks), in great part because we have his biology course on dvd, and also Trefil’s and Hazen’s The Sciences: An Integrated Approach (also cheap secondhand at Abebooks). Throw in a couple of out-of-print Charles Harper books for the boys (The Giant Golden Book of Biology and The Animal Kingdom, and it’s a bit of a mishmash, but it works for us.

Here’s a link to a free PDF of a draft version of the Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments.

In the next few weeks…

In extracurriculars, besides getting ready for beef club achievement days, the kids are in the home stretch for this year’s play, “Alice in Wonderland”, with opening night a week from Thursday. Laura got off her application for the birding internship in Ontario, and we get word on the 15th whether she makes it or not; only six kids nationally are chosen, so our fingers are crossed. She’ll take her learner’s permit test tomorrow, so more fingers crossed for that.

This year’s batch of shelterbelt trees, somewhere between 900 and 1,000, are arriving at the county depot on Friday, so we’ll be planting them on the weekend. As usual, Mother’s Day tends to be more like Arbor Day around here…

I’m thankful…

The kids all did very well at the local music festival in March, and had some good fun. The boys each recited two poems, and Daniel surprised himself and us by winning one poetry category (lyrical) instead of his sister. He also won best speech arts for 12 and under. Laura sang two art songs, performed “Worst Pies” from “Sweeney Todd” for musical theater (she did a wonderful, very funny job, especially with the double portion of pizza dough I made for her to sling around), and had half a dozen speech arts entries. She won a number of awards, including best overall speech arts, and she and Daniel were recommended to the provincial music festival for speech arts, and Laura for musical theater. Unfortunately, provincials are the week after the play and a few days before achievement day, and Davy’s session is on Wednesday and Laura’s sessions on Thursday, so we are spending the night in the city, not the best time to be away from home. We will probably have to leave Daniel at home with Tom’s parents, so he can do all the farm chores and especially look after the 4H animals.

Laura’s been getting more and more wrapped up in her birding. Unlike her mother, she’s a dedicated blogger and keeps up with her birding posts. She joined a listserv for provincial birders last month, and was welcomed warmly by members who seem happy to see someone younger as well as outside the two main urban centers. Invited by one of the members, we attended the town of Tofield’s nature day and Snow Goose chase last weekend, organized by the big city nature club, and Laura was able to meet some listserv members in person. More on the day below.

Around the farm…

Late in April, I had a phone call from the big oil company putting in another pipeline across the road through our neighbor’s pasture. The rep asked if we would give permission for a two-man wildlife biology survey crew to come on our land and check for various species. We can’t do anything to stop the pipeline  – and at any rate, we’re dependent on our vehicles and the pipeline oil that powers them, living too far from town to walk or even to bike, especially from November to April and especially with any purchases too large for a bicycle basket. But we can do our small part to make sure that various animal populations and habitat are taken into account and looked after before, during, and after construction.

So I said yes, and also asked if Laura could go out with the crew, because I thought it could be mutually beneficial. She knows the land and wildlife like the back of her hand and could help the crew get the information they need (for example, they were looking for sharp-tailed grouse here and there are none), and I thought it would be good for Laura to see first-hand the work wildlife biologists do in the field. Apparently, asking to go along was fairly odd question — we were the first ever landowners to ever ask — but the pipeline company checked with the survey company, and everyone said yes.

The two young men who turned up on Monday are dedicated professional biologists and personal birders; in fact, one spent a fair amount of time going back and forth with Laura about their year birds and spring migrants they’ve seen so far. If I’ve learned anything about most birders, it’s that they are dedicated list makers and keepers. The other biologist, when he first arrived around 5 am, while standing in our driveway, quizzed Laura by asking her what birds she could hear at the large slough (pond/wetland) across the road in our neighbors’ pasture. Since it’s filled with thousands of Snow Geese, it’s pretty hard to make out much besides their honking, but Laura listed a number of other birds, including one (Green-winged Teal) the biologist hadn’t been able to hear. So with that, off we went, and spent some time in the pasture recording early morning birdsong. We met later in the morning for several hours and Laura led the way to a good viewing spot by the slough where the crew set up their spotting scopes, much to Laura’s delight because she’s been wanting a scope for a year now.

And based on comments in her letter of reference for the internship, from the local college biology instructor who leads our naturalist society and has been Laura’s unofficial mentor, and from the survey crew (as well as their boss, the company’s senior wildlife biologist) about her levels of knowledge and interest — Tom and I don’t know any other young birders so we weren’t sure if her interest and abilities are average or above average — we’ve decided to let her go ahead with the purchase of a spotting scope. She’ll be using her own money, and has decided to get one of the top-level Swarovski scopes, though not with HD to save some money. She’s decided that she’d rather pay more for a top quality scope she should be able to use for a good long time, through her university studies and as she starts a career. The fellow we’re working with at the store said Laura’s selections should give her at least 20 years’ enjoyment.

This TED talk by Canadian professor Larry Smith, “Why you will fail to have a great career”, which I heard on last week’s CBC Sunday Edition radio show, is as good a reason as any for encouraging Laura to pursue her present hobby as a career. Last week, the Sunday Edition also ran David Martin’s essay, “My Government Valedictory”, which along with the recently announced federal job cuts are all good reasons to consider avoiding government jobs; some of the cuts will be at bird, and birders’, haven Point Pelee.

I am thinking...

By the way, I’ve been adding any birding material, all of the writing and some of the photography, to Laura’s high school portfolio, inlcuding the letter of recommendation and nice email note from the survey crew’s wildlife biologist, who turned up on the provincial listserv and wrote her offlist. Laura also wrote a blog post about our nature day visit last weekend to Tofield. She was asked if her post could be used as an article for the club’s newsletter, and she’ll receive a published copy, so a copy of that will go in the portfolio as well. I think it might be helpful in the next year or two to make a book of her blog with Blurb or some such, as a record of her birding and writing.

Aside from the birds to be seen outdoors, there were many wonderful exhibits in the town’s community center: several owls and hawks from from the city zoo; well-known Canadian naturalist John Acorn (who used to have a marvelous children’s show on CBC, “Acorn the Nature Nut”, now available on dvd); here are the two nature nuts together,

a live Burrowing Owl from a nearby bird observatory, which Laura got to hold,

a Bugs & Beetles wetland display; and a gorgeous taxidermy display of mounted owls from the Royal Alberta Museum. My favorite, though, were the yard-long garter snake, enormous Malaysian katydid, and scorpion, also from the Royal Alberta Museum; here is Katy,

displayed by the enthusiastic Pete Heule, the Museum’s Bug Room Co-ordinator (know as the Bug Guy on his features for CBC radio, which we enjoy very much).

In the kitchen…

Plans for tonight include Banana Batter Cake with Coconut Caramel Sauce, apparently an Asian variation of sticky toffee pudding, found in last November’s issue of British House & Garden magazine, originally from Australian chef and restaurateur Bill Granger’s book, Bill’s Everyday Asian (recipe here).

Some books we’re reading…

Designing Your Perfect House: Lessons from an Architect by William J. Hirsch (me)

The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds by Julie Zickefoose (Laura), new and very good

All of Baba’s Children by Myrna Kostash (Tom), a personal and general history of Ukrainian Canadians

Finally, Friday night the whole family went to see “The Artist”, which was playing at the little movie theater in town, which is owned and run by a friend of ours. We don’t get a lot of first, or almost first, run movies in town, so this was a huge treat, especially since we’d seen lots of clips at the awards shows earlier this year and were quite eager for the movie to come out on dvd. Next month on the big screen — either “Bringing Up Baby” or “The Philadelphia Story”, two favorites which would be wonderful to see on the big screen.

Shhh…

One of the more interesting conversation topics among home schoolers isn’t socialization (though it is a favorite of non-home schoolers) but introverts vs. extroverts, especially since it seems that many introverted parents are teaching extroverted kids, as I am. The subject comes up fairly often in the Charlotte Mason and Well-Trained Mind yahoo groups I frequent, so it’s a situation a number of parents find themselves dealing with. I imagine an extrovert with three introverted kids would also have her challenges…

I’ve known since I was very young that I’m an introvert. In elementary school, I generally preferred books to people. In high school, I had much more fun getting ready for parties than at the parties themselves (I couldn’t wait to get home). The challenge for me hasn’t been figuring out what I am, or what the kids are. It’s been trying to meet my kids’ needs as extroverts without making myself crazy, and, considerably more difficult, to fit, as an intovert, into a mostly extroverted world. Figuring out this latter part is the focus of Susan Cain’s new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (just published by Crown, January 24, 2012). Our library system has about a dozen copies on order, and I’ve reserved one through interlibrary loan when they arrive.

If you haven’t yet figured out whether you’re an extrovert or introvert, Ms. Cain has a quick quiz on her website.  Some of the quiz statements (answer yes or no):

I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities

I often prefer to express myself in writing

I enjoy solitude

I seem to care less than my peers about wealth, fame and status

I’m not a big risk taker

I enjoy work that allows me to dive in with few interruptions

I like to celebrate birthdays on a small scale with only one or two close friends or family members

I do my best work alone

I tend to think before I speak

I feel drained after being out and about, even if I’ve enjoyed myself

If I had to choose, I’d prefer a weekend with absolutely nothing to do to one with too many things scheduled

I don’t enjoy multitasking

If you can answer Yes to most of these, according to Cain, “you are likely to be an introvert”. I do and am.

This is one reason why the last two years, which have been remarkable for their lack of quiet, have been so difficult for me. The more I’ve explained that I needed to get back to my own usual uninterrupted home- and farm-centered life, the more resistance, and outright dismissiveness, I’ve met. It reminded me of growing up as an introvert in an extroverted family, with parents who laughingly told others, “She’s shy” (though, as Cain notes, there is a difference between shyness and introversion). It’s one of the reasons why I was determined when the kids were young that I would rather help and prepare them than tease them, however good naturedly, and why we started with reciting poetry at the local music festival. Interestingly, last year, as part of her “Quiet Revolution”, Cain championed public speaking and Toastmasters to help some introverts overcome their fears. For kids, I can’t say enough about the benefits of music festivals, and also the 4H public speaking program.

From a Scientific American interview with Susan Cain by Gareth Cook [emphasis mine]:

Cook: How does this cultural inclination [toward extroverts] affect introverts?

Cain: Many introverts feel there’s something wrong with them, and try to pass as extroverts. But whenever you try to pass as something you’re not, you lose a part of yourself along the way. You especially lose a sense of how to spend your time. Introverts are constantly going to parties and such when they’d really prefer to be home reading, studying, inventing, meditating, designing, thinking, cooking… or any number of other quiet and worthwhile activities.

According to the latest research, one third to one half of us are introverts – that’s one out of every two or three people you know. But you’d never guess that, right? That’s because introverts learn from an early age to act like pretend-extroverts.

I was able to stop pretending once I began living on my on, in college and was able to act on my preferences. Which have included, as Cain notes, staying home to read, study, meditate, design, think, cook, “or any number of other quiet and worthwhile activities.” Not to mention gardening and tending chickens and cattle.

“Worthwhile”  to me is the most important word in that sentence, because the majority extroverts are very quick to assume that activities and preferences not worthwhile to them aren’t worthwhile at all, to anyone. This requires the introvert to do some fighting, or at least to stand her ground. Or, if you’re an extrovert parent of an introverted child, to accept your child’s differences and to teach your child to stand up for those differences.

More from the SciAm interview [emphasis mine],

Cook: Is this just a problem for introverts, or do you feel it hurts the country as a whole?

Cain: It’s never a good idea to organize society in a way that depletes the energy of half the population. We discovered this with women decades ago, and now it’s time to realize it with introverts.

This also leads to a lot of wrongheaded notions that affect introverts and extroverts alike. Here’s just one example: Most schools and workplaces now organize workers and students into groups, believing that creativity and productivity comes from a gregarious place. This is nonsense, of course. From Darwin to Picasso to Dr. Seuss, our greatest thinkers have often worked in solitude, and in my book I examine lots of research on the pitfalls of groupwork.

And from Cain’s Toronto Globe & Mail interview:

At work you mention extroverts are showy and efficient; they’re often driven by status. Introverts, meanwhile, are slow and deliberate. Is that methodical process mistaken for lack of ambition or, worse, laziness?

Absolutely. The way you display your work or your ambition can often be misperceived. I interviewed [three-time Olympic gold medalist] Marnie McBean recently, this very dynamic, firecracker extrovert. She said that when she was first paired with Kathleen Heddle, a quietly steely, determined introvert, she was very upset and actually asked her coach to give her a different partner. She thought Kathleen was not up to snuff. Her coach said, ‘You do realize that Kathleen is the best rower on the team, and she’s even better than you, Marnie.’ She hadn’t realized that because she was so attuned to outside displays of ambition, competitiveness and fieriness, and Kathleen wasn’t displaying any of those. I’d advise [introverts] that they might take some of their hard work and think about ways of drawing attention to themselves, ways that are comfortable for them.

One of the items in Ms. Cain’s Quiet Manifesto, “16 Things I Believe”, is the following, which has a direct application to home schooling:

We teach kids in group classrooms not because this is the best way to learn but because it’s cost-efficient, and what else would we do with the children while all the grown-ups are at work? If your child prefers to work autonomously and socialize one-on-one, there’s nothing wrong with her; she just happens not to fit the model.

And finally, also from the Manifesto,

If the task of the first half of life is to put yourself out there, the task of the second half is to make sense of where you’ve been.

Yes. I’d just add, and to continue going where you want to go. Here’s to reclaiming quiet for those of us who need it, and to a growing appreciation for the intrinsic worth of quiet.

*  *  *  *

Since home schoolers as a group seem to be quite keen about Ted Talks, I thought I should mention that Susan Cain will be a speaker at Ted2012 in late February

An article from a 2009 issue of Secular Homeschooling magazine, “Guided by their Needs: Homeschooling Works for Introverts and Extroverts!”

An article from a 1998 issue of Home Education Magazine, “The Valedictorian Who Failed Socialization”

Canadian Curlews

After 17 years in Canada, I’m still not entirely up on my CanLit and find lots of surprises. The latest one is Last of the Curlews by Fred Bodsworth, published in 1955. So for anyone looking for some modern CanLit for older students, a living book on extinct/endangered species, and a modern classic movie (adapted from the book) for younger children about extinct/endangered species, we have a couple of recommendations.

A bit of background to explain. For her two 4H clubs, Laura is writing two speeches, one on birds that are extinct, the other on birds that are virtually extinct. Going over her speeches with her, I learned about birds I’d never heard of (not hard for me, since unlike Laura, I don’t sleep with a copy of Sibley’s and read almost exclusively about birds). One of the extinction stories I found quite moving is about the Eskimo curlew. I’ve borrowed a bit from Laura’s speech.

The Eskimo curlew, a medium-sized shorebird in the sandpiper family, is said to have been among the birds that guided Christopher Columbus to the new world. But the curlew is so rare now from overhunting 100 years ago that it’s very probably extinct. If there are any still in existence, scientists think they number fewer than 50 adult birds, when once the population was in the millions and they flew in flocks so thick they formed dark clouds one kilometer wide and long.

If it sounds rather like the story of the passenger pigeon, there are parallels. Nineteenth century American market hunters in need of a replacement for the pigeon, which they had hunted into extinction, looked about and proceeded to do the same sad thing to the Eskimo curlew, which they called “doughbirds” — the birds, heavy from gorging themselves on berries, fruit, and insects in their breeding grounds in the Northwest Territories and Alaska, would put on a thick layer of fat in preparation for their journey. The curlews, again like the passenger pigeons, were so tightly spaced as a flock that a single shotgun blast could easily kill about 20 birds. The survivors had an unfortunate habit of circling back for their injured or dead flockmates, giving the hunters yet another chance. Hunters first starting shooting the birds on their spring migration, then, looking for even more, headed for the curlew breeding grounds, where men would blind the birds with lanterns and then club them.

The Eskimo curlew’s migration, we read, was one of the longest and most complex in the animal kingdom. The winter journey involved a large clockwise circle, starting at the subarctic Canadian tundra, through the western hemisphere, east through Labrador, down through the Atlantic, across the southern Caribbean, and finally to the Argentinian pampas and Chile.

Another strike against the Eskimo curlew, just as it should have been rebounding from overhunting, was the loss of one its important prey species, the Rocky Mountain grasshopper, or locust. If you read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “On the Banks of Plum Creek”, you might remember the almost biblical plague of locusts in the chapter, “The Glittering Cloud”:

The cloud was hailing grasshoppers.  The cloud was grasshoppers. Their bodies hid the sun and made darkness. Their thin, large wings gleamed and glittered. The rasping whirring of their wings filled the whole air and they hit the ground an dthe house with the noise of a hailstorm.

… Grasshoppers covered the ground, there was not one bare bit to step on. Laura had to step on grasshoppers and they smashed squirming and slimy under her feet. …

Then Laura heard another sound, one big sound made of tiny nips and snips and gnawings.

“The wheat!” Pa shouted. He dashed out the back door and ran toward the wheat-field.

The locusts were the farmers’ scourge on the Great Plains in the 1870s, and their obliteration was as accidental as it was complete, as well as devastating for the curlew population. In fact, entemologist Dr. Jeffrey Lockwood has called it “the only complete elimination of an agricultural pest species”. What happened, Dr. Lockwood discovered, is that

Between outbreaks, the locust hid out in the river valleys of Wyoming and Montana — the same river valleys that settlers had discovered were best suited for farming.

By converting these valleys into farms — diverting streams for irrigation, allowing cattle and sheep to graze in riparian areas, and eliminating beavers and their troublesome dams — the pioneers unknowingly wiped out locust sanctuaries. They destroyed the locust’s equivalent of [the Monarch butterfly's] Mexican forest wintering grounds. They doomed the species.

For the rest of the fascinating story, you can read Dr. Lockwood’s article here.

Last summer, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service said it is seeking any information about the Eskimo curlew, and will review whether the bird should continue to be classified as endangered or formally designated as extinct. The last sighting confirmed by the Fish and Wildlife Service was in Nebraska in 1987.

Getting back to the point of this post, while helping Laura, we discovered a celebrated Canadian novel written in 1955, Last of the Curlews by Fred Bodsworth, which is part of Canadian publisher McClelland & Stewart’s New Canadian Library line; I just ordered a copy. I like the idea of the book as a bridge to fiction, especially modern classic Canadian fiction, for her since she reads so much nonfiction (especially so much bird-related nonfiction), and also as an entree into CanLit for an older student who’s ready for a bigger challenge, but not quite ready for some of CanLit’s heavier offerings — though like most CanLit, this book is sad.  Here’s an excerpt from Chapter One:

The Arctic day was long, and despite the tundra gales which whistled endlessly across the unobstructed land the day was hot and humid. The curlew alternately probed the mudflats for food and patrolled his territory, and all the time he watched the land’s flat horizons with eyes that never relaxed. Near mid-day a rough-legged hawk appeared far to the north, methodically circling back and forth across the river and diving earthward now and then on a lemming that incautiously showed itself among the reindeer moss. The curlew eyed the hawk apprehensively as the big hunter’s circling brought it slowly upriver towards the curlew’s territory. Finally the roughleg crossed the territory boundary unmarked on the ground but sharply defined in the curlew’s brain. The curlew took off in rapid pursuit, his long wings stroking the air deeply and his larynx shrieking a sharp piping alarm as he closed in on the intruder with a body weight ten times his own. For a few seconds the hawk ignored the threatened attack, then turned back northward without an attempt at battle. It could have killed the curlew with one grasp of its talons, but it was a killer only when it needed food, and it gave ground willingly before a bird so maddened with the fire of the mating time.

The sun dipped low, barely passing from view, and the curlew’s first Arctic night dropped like a grey mist around him. The tundra cooled quickly, and as it cooled the gale that had howled all day suddenly died. Dusk, but not darkness, followed.

The curlew was drawn by an instinctive urge he felt but didn’t understand to the dry ridge of cobblestone with the thick mat of reindeer moss at its base where the nest would be. In his fifth summer now, he had never seen a nest or even a female of his kind except the nest and mother he had briefly known in his own nestling stage, yet the know-how of courtship and nesting was there, unlearned, like a carry-over from another life he had lived. And he dozed now on one leg, bill tucked under the feathers of his back, beside the gravel bar which awaited the nest that the bird’s instinct said there had to be.

Tomorrow or the next day the female would come, for the brief annual cycle of life in the Arctic left time for no delays.

It sounds as if it would make a wonderful living book choice for conservation and natural history studies, too. There’s another edition, a 1990s reissue, which came about because “Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.S. Merwin found this slim 1955 novel on a shelf in the house of friends, and, struck with the ‘plain, succinct evocation and beauty’ of Fred Bodsworth’s writing, suggested its reissue to a publisher.” That volume has a foreword by Merwin and an afterword by Murray Gell-Man, with J.J. Audubon’s painting of Eskimo curlews on the cover.

And for younger children, Last of the Curlews was made into a one-hour animated movie in 1972 to teach children about conservation. I was surprised to learn that it not only featured Vincent Van Patten (I’m old enough to remember “Apple’s Way”), but was also the very first ABC Afterschool Special, winning an Emmy for children’s broadcasting. I don’t read entries at IMDB much, but the reviews for, and memories of, Last are poignant. The animation by Hanna-Barbera is lovely, not at all what comes to mind when I think of H-B (primarily the Flintstones, etc.). We were hopefully optimistic when we heard about this, and delighted to find that it’s available, in several parts, on YouTubePart 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. But a warning that the cartoon version doesn’t sugarcoat the story, which is not a happy or hopeful one. Extinction is extinction. We found a box of Kleenex helpful.

Also on YouTube is a little video blurb by Canadian eco-photographer Edward Burtynsky on Last of the Curlews for the Toronto Public Library.

Digging around online, we learned that Charles Frederick (Fred) Bodsworth is an internationally renowned naturalist, journalist, and novelist. Born in Port Burwell, Ontario, in 1918, after apparently spending some time working on tugboats and in tobacco fields, he became a reporter for the St. Thomas (ON) Times-Journal at the age of 22 and later was a writer and editor both at The Toronto Star and at Maclean’s magazine. Mr. Bodsworth left Maclean’s in 1955 to focus on magazine and nature writing, and novels. He also served as president of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists from 1964 to 1967. In 2002, he received the prestigious Writer’s Trust Matt Cohen Lifetime Achievement Award. I didn’t see any mention online of an obituary or his death, so I hope he is still hale, hearty, and watching birds at 94.

In other school-related news, work on the other speeches and presentation is going well, we’re in the midst of musical festival registration (both as registrars and registrants), the kids are happily galloping through more of Life of Fred, and in the phys ed department, curling season has picked up dramatically and the kids are curling quite well. Laura is also working on a summer internship application, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed for that. Oh, and roles have been handed out for Spring’s theater production of “Alice in Wonderland” so there is lots of singing throughout the house.  That and Davy’s cooking — he made baking powder biscuits yesterday and today some delicious gravy from our moose roast — are keeping us warm in this week’s cold snap. And -51 is verrrry snappy.


January daybook

A very happy belated new year to all.

I have to admit I’m glad to see the back of 2011. I had high hopes for it being better than 2010 — I didn’t have any more parents to lose, after all — but in the end it seemed I spent most of the year hostage to lawyers, accountants, bankers, and two executorships. And worrying as Monopoly-like amounts of money went flying about to pay bills and taxes. Soul sucking and exhausting.

For such a long time until last year, our days, weeks, months always seemed to expand as necessary, magically, to fit our various activities or adventures. Whenever it seemed we were, or I was, at a limit, that limit would move out just a bit, like a favorite pair of sweatpants. But in 2011, I learned that life is not an endlessly expanding pair of pants. There are indeed limits to limits, and the elastic snaps like a rubber band, which smarts and also sends a whole bunch of things flying in the process. This year, I need to get out of the hostage situation, by any means necessary.

Outside my window…

it looks more like spring or autumn than winter. There’s no appreciable snow, thanks to an unseasonably warm December and January, with temperatures just around freezing. Today was 5 C above zero, and last Wednesday the temperature climbed up to 11 C (52 F) which was, unsurprisingly, record-breaking. The kids spent some of the holiday days skating on the frozen slough (pond) across the road, but in general the boys are quite unhappy with the lack of snow, going to bed every night with hopes of waking up to a blizzard for proper winter fun. It has been great weather, however, for adults, especially adults who need to drive.  And with the solstice, a wee bit more of daylight every day, which is most welcome. But this is Canada, so I’m assuming winter will be here soon enough, and I’d rather have my snow in January and February than May and June.

I’m thinking…

of my father, who died two years ago this week. It doesn’t seem like two years, but then a year ago we were preparing our cross-continent odyssey. I thought of my father often last month as we baked cookies, because the workhorse of the kitchen is the Kitchenaid mixmaster he gave us for Christmas five years ago. Especially handy for double recipes of my grandmother’s Viennese vanillekipferl, ground almond crescents, without which it isn’t Christmas around here.

And of Tom’s uncle, who is dying of kidney failure. Our holiday preparations and festivities alternated with hospital visits. Tom’s uncle, wanting to end the pain and misery, had originally refused to continue with dialysis. But the doctor persuaded him to continue through Christmas, for the sake of his family. We sit and wait, but we also tell stories, remember, and laugh.

I’m thankful…

for our relatively peaceful Christmas at home. It was lovely, and much needed. We went off to the woods for a tree, which the kids put up by themselves and then decorated. They had great fun planning Christmas gifts for us and each other, and put much thought into their choices. Laura made a lovely quilled (paper filigree) picture of two chickadees, Daniel ordered a lovely pair of blue and white earrings from Etsy for me, and Davy picked out the perfect pair of beeswax tapers for our silver candlestick holders. Much thought, and much love, in evidence.

Laura sang beautifully two of the songs she’d been practicing all autumn, “Gesù bambino” (in English) and “Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind” (some verses from “As You Like It” set to music), at her December recital, and also at a women’s holiday breakfast, the annual Christmas dinner at the nursing home for residents and their families, and the town’s Christmas dinner for the public. While Laura sang at the town dinner, the boys helped deliver meals for shut-ins.

Laura also had a table at one of the December farmer’s markets in town, to sell her quilling (greeting cards, ornaments, gift boxes, and some framed quilling pictures) and also birchbark candle holders. I had seen some on Etsy and told the boys I’d love something similar as an early Christmas present. We had a birch tree that blew over in a storm, and the kids became so proficient and had so much fun turning out the log candleholders for me that they figured they could make some to sell. The candleholders proved so popular I wasn’t left with many for myself; here are a couple I managed to pinch, with cedar from the garden,

In the kitchen…

things have slowed down considerably. We made braided loaves of Christmas fruit bread, mince tarts, kipferls, rum balls, thumbprint cookies. Laura made several batches of gingersnaps, for her voice teacher and the library staff. Davy made brownies with crushed candy canes for the guitar teacher. Although we had turkey on Christmas Eve at my inlaws’ house, Christmas Day dinner was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding here. For New Year’s Eve, we had our usual hors d’oeuvres buffet, with devilled eggs, hot crab dip, smoked salmon, crudites, and more.

Chili and rice tonight. I’ve been smitten for the past few months with my new Le Creuset 5.2 liter red enameled cast iron Dutch oven, though Le Creuset of course would prefer it to be known as a French oven. I had no say in the size or color, since I got the lovely heavy beast for Air Miles in the last chance/clearance section. Just when I had become despondent about finding anything I liked and could actually use, after sorting through the entire Air Miles rewards website, I found the magic pot and grabbed it immediately. It arrived almost as quickly, and we have been making good use of it every since — chili, baked beans, soups, stews. I can finally see what all the fuss is about for such an expensive pot. Not only does the pot make everything taste better, but it is ridiculously easy to clean. With its layers and layers of enamel, there is, apparently, no such thing as “baked-on grime”. Truly magic.

I’m wearing…

a brown Fair Isle cardigan and sweatpants (elastic intact, thank you very much)

I’m creating…

a bit of order. We spent several days over the holidays at Home Depot for in-stock, ready-to-assemble cabinets for the dining area, and then assembling them. It took us three trips, including one to the big city after exhausting the supply of the HD in the little city. We had bought the Ikea butcherblock countertops over the summer.

Now I’m deciding where to put what. I’ve already put away all the board and card games, which used to live on the floor under the roll-top desk in the living room, and the kids’ home school books and things, which I used to keep in plastic dish tubs on the kitchen floor under the china cabinet.

Speaking of creating, last month I made an advent calendar for the kids, which is about as crafty as I get. We would usually get the German paper kind, with a glittered woodland scene (no candy), the same sort I’d had as a child. From time to time I could find them in the drugstore at Christmastime, but it’s been getting harder. And I decided it would be nice to have something we could reuse, and also something particularly fun for the kids, considering our holidays of late. On a number of blogs I’d seen the kind made with muslin bags, so I decided with the help of Etsy, a hot glue gun, and rubber number stamps, to try something different,

A few bags had candy, but most had things like Christmas kleenex packages (from the dollar store) and mini Christmas crackers and nutcracker ornaments (from Loblaws). Great fun.

We also hung snowflakes from the windows in the dining room. I found some lovely laser-cut wooden ones I found on Etsy (here and here) and at Chapters, which Daniel spray painted white for me,

I’m going…

slightly less crazy, I hope.

I’m reading…

Death Comes to PemberleyP.D. James’s Jane Austen confection, just perfect for the holidays; I was so keen to get a paperback edition rather than hardcover that I didn’t look carefully at the cover on the Chapters website and ended up with the large print version, which made me laugh when I opened the parcel and realized what I’d ordered. But it’s perfect, very easy on my old eyes, and delightful to read without drugstore reading glasses. The large print aspect is considerably more exciting than the actual mystery, which isn’t one of James’s best. She’s worked well around the constraints of the very basic early 19th century policework, but Darcy and Elizabeth are, sadly, both stiff and anemic.

For Christmas, I gave Laura the latest Flavia de Luce novel, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, and as soon as she’s done with it, I’m going to borrow it to read. In the meantime, I’ve started it on audio CD from the library, and was delighted to find that reader Jayne Entwistle appears to be channelling plummy-voiced Joan Greenwood when voicing the character of British film actress Phyllis Wyvern, who has come to Flavia’s run-down house, Buckshaw, to shoot a movie.

A few blogs, including Alicia Paulson’s Posie Get Cozy and Lisa’s Amid Privilege. I’ve long been a reader of Posie, and this year had been following along as Alicia and her husband came very close to the adoption of a baby they had long hoped for, only to have things fall apart at the very last minute, after the baby’s birth. It has been more than a year of waiting followed by heartbreak and dashed hopes. In her year-end blog post, Alicia wrote,

Almost twenty years ago I had a panic attack on an airplane in mid-air. Tears streamed down my face. I closed my eyes and was back in my grandma’s spare bedroom, in the warm dark with the night-light left on in the hallway, my grandparents sleeping in their twin beds on the other side of the wall. Safe.

I’ve conjured that place several times this past year, trying to find purchase in my life and in what has, at certain times, felt like being in free-fall. I think that’s how most of life is, in a lot of ways. You step forward, and step forward, and then you touch back — everything still here? Still here. Okay. Forward again (then). Life pulls you forward, even when you feel tired. I never was an adventurous person, in my own opinion; I always had big plans but only for little, mostly prosaic things. I always was and still am happiest in slow, mostly quiet places, with long, mostly quiet days. Winter suits me. When I look back on 2011, I am, I have to admit, still sort of bewildered and shaken, not sure what happened or even what to do next. I’m trying to be at peace with that gauzy, half-blurred feeling, and on certain days think it is easy to just — let it go away from me, a long piece of crinkled muslin tossed up and carried off into the wind. On other days I seem to wear it, spiraled and close, like a scarf. Maybe I’ll just lose it somewhere, and not even notice. Leave it on a bench or a bus. I won’t mind.

I kept nodding as I read this. The last year has been one long panic attack, it seems, with safety on the other side of the door but for some reason so many hurdles, probably banker’s boxes full of files in my case, in the way of that door. I too, am happiest in slow, mostly quiet places, with long, mostly quiet days. Of course, my version of quiet days includes a number of extracurricular activities for the kids (two 4H clubs, what on earth was I thinking?) and various volunteer projects for Tom and me. But it works for us. Or at least it did, until all sorts of other things got tossed into the mix. I’d love to leave the lawyers, the business, the house, on a bus. One going fast, and far far away from here.

At Amid Privilege, Lisa wrote the other day,

Only a reminder that in the New Year, we can resolve to enjoy, again, taking care of those we love. To revel, again, in all the ways learned to fold laundry, change sheets, and make Nina Simmond’s Chicken Hot And Sour Soup. At 55, years of good work give us the right to ease up, but we can also serve without obligation. Teasing out those specifics is the greatest privilege of our later years.

Yes, we can resolve to enjoy, again, taking care of those we love and I shall. To borrow from Emily Dickinson, hope isn’t just the thing with feathers. Hope is also the thing with fabric swatches, with a full soup pot, with another chapter in the math book, with new green shoots.

That’s my amaryllis Limonia (cream with yellow throat) coming up, in an old chamber pot. And the new Ikea butcherblock countertop in the dining room, with the original Ikea finish. I’d hoped to sand it off and try some Waterlox, but Tom was too fast for me. We’ll see how it holds up. I may yet try Ikea’s own Behandla.

I’m looking forward to…

finishing up the dining room. We still need flooring, as you can see in the pictures below. And cushions (probably no-sew) for the window seat, though I did order some blue fabric, Waverly’s Barano Indigo, which is on the way,

Tom wasn’t too crazy about the idea of window seats but the kids and I insisted; it’s a wonderful place to sit and read, drink a mug of something hot, eat a bowl of soup, and look out the window and watch the birds in the spruce tree at the feeders. I can’t remember which one of us came up with the idea of using the Home Depot in-stock over-the-fridge cabinets, they are just the right height.

Ignore the little ghostly squares from the picture frames in each photo, and apologies for my poor picture taking. The plants (you can see the banana in the top photo, far right, and the Boston fern on the window seat) are some of my greenhouse refugees. The rest are in my bedroom, the office, and the basement. The ones in the second photo are sequestered on old cookie sheets so the butcherblock stays dry and undamaged.

You can see just where the remaining drawers need to go. As spring approaches and the sun gets stronger, we’ll need bamboo blinds on the east and west windows, because, as we learned last year, the sun is blinding at mealtimes.

Oh, and Tom is still working on our new farmhouse table, which is still in the shop. The new table will take up much more floor space, especially width-wise between the cabinets, but am sure we’ll be able to manage.

The hardboard placemats, below, we found in Hereford on our honeymoon 17 years ago, and had lived in a closet until Tom put them up the other week. The blue and white transferware prints by Australian artist Kerri Shipp I found at her Etsy shop early last year, just after our return from NYC to clear out the apartment; I was in need of cocooning and retail therapy, and I thought the prints would be a fun nod to our Spode and Burleigh plates. Laura was very impressed with my taste when the prints arrived just before some others by Kerri appeared in a Spring issue of Martha Stewart magazine. It’s wonderful to have some of our favorite things up where we can enjoy them every day.

Around the house…

One of my favorite things…

A Christmas present, for the dining room of course, a new-to-us old clock, via Etsy. Made in England, c1940-1950, I think,

A few plans for the rest of the week:

Back to school, as well as music festival work, a 4H meeting, lots of curling, getting started on 4H speeches and presentations, a visit to the orthodentist, some hospital visiting.

I suppose if I were blogging more regularly, this wouldn’t be such a giant post, would it?

Poetry

Farm School poetry posts over the years:

National Poetry Month 2010

National Poetry Month 2009: Essential Pleasures and Happy National Poetry month!

Something different, a list of poetry books and other poetic resources

How I got my kids to like poetry and broccoli

Poetry sings

More poetry aloud, with PennSound

Poetry Is Life, and some Great Books too

A monthlong celebration of delight and glory and oddity and light (National Poetry Month 2008)

Adding even more poetry to your life, just in time for National Poetry Month (NPM 2006)

“Feed the lambs”: On the difference between poems for children and children’s poetry, Part 1 and Part 2

Thoughts on The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems and classic poetry

An appreciation of John Updike and light verse

Langston Hughes, the “social poet”

Eugene Field, “the children’s poet”, and his plea for the classics, for ambitious boys and girls

Robert Browning, with another plea and an explanation of how children learn best

You can also use the “category” clicker on the sidebar at left to find all of my Poetry and Poetry Friday posts

 

Daybook

Outside my window…

the garden is dead. We had the first killing frost last night, -6 Celsius (it was -10 at my inlaws’ house). The sweet peas, cosmos, clematis, lavatera, sunflowers, rudbeckia, and even the zinnias under sheets (had we known it would be lower than -1, we would have used two layers) are all gone. I moved much from the greenhouse into the house, and it looks sad in the greenhouse now. But the kitchen looks like a florist’s shop, and the banana plant is wondering why it’s in the living room.

I am thinking…

how quickly the cold weather came on, after 30+ temps last week, though it has been autumn here for the past month.

I am thankful…

that Tom got the propane heater late last night for the greenhouse, when we realized the thermometer wasn’t finished moving at -2.

for a warm oven, containing peach cobbler.

From the learning rooms…

we are doing a quick run-through the 20th century before beginning another cycle of ancient history. We are focusing on the perils of populism, in the 20th century, and now.

We watched “All Quiet on the Western Front”, the version with John Boy. We are bouncing around a bit, based on what’s available and when from the library. Next up is the 1998 Disney movie “Miracle at Midnight”, about the Nazi occupation of Denmark in WWII, starring Sam Waterston and Mia Farrow.

In the kitchen…

more dill pickles, and canning peaches.

I am wearing…

an apron, and longer pants, because it’s cold in the house. I finally succumbed and turned on the furnace this morning.

I am creating…

good food and small skeptics.

I am going…

to town quickly to pick up a parcel with Laura’s newest voice book for lessons, and batteries for her camera.

I am wondering…

how to fit all my greenhouse plants in the house.

I am reading…

Elle DecorTraditional Home, and Noel Streatfeild’s Saplings, which though terribly sad goes well with our history readings (writing in The Guardian, Sarah Waters called it “A study of the disintegration of a middle-class family during the turmoil of the Second World War”).

Also, new from the library, 101 Things I Hate About Your House by James Swan, and How to Write a Sentence, and How to Read One by Stanley Fish.

I am hoping…

I have enough Ziploc bags on hand for the sliced peaches.

I am looking forward to…

cabinets in the dining room. We may have found some at Home Depot, the sort you can pick up in boxes and walk out of the store with. As long as everything is in stock, which is the rub.

And at Ikea on the weekend, we managed to get the long out-of-stock Numerar butcherblock countertops for the dining room. They’re oak, which I wouldn’t want for a kitchen, but for the dining room they’re fine.  The plan is for base cabinets on the east and west walls, topped with the butcherblock countertops, and then open shelving on the walls.

I am hearing…

the hum of the furnace. Very odd after so long without it. The kids were delighted, and ran to the registers with quilts.

Around the house…

there are plants, fruit, and vegetables in every spare nook and cranny.

I am pondering…

Professor Helen Zoe Veit’s editorial in favor of a return to Home Economics in the classroom, originally published in The New York Times. From which:

One of my favorite things…

peach cobbler

A few plans for the rest of the week:

Laura has her second babysitting engagement, which she finds thrilling.  Putting together the Ikea sideboard, which will be our under-the-chalkboard table, since it is not too deep. I may have the kids sand the sideboard, so I can stain it, because it’s a light pine which doesn’t go with much in the kitchen. And possibly painting the chalkboard, which is an old school board and green. Am thinking black might be a nice change.

A gift to home schoolers and all learners: Michael Hart (1947-2011)

Michael Hart, the founder of Project Gutenberg and the inventor, in 1971, of electronic books, died of a heart attack this past Tuesday, September 6, at the age of 64. His obituary at Project Gutenberg is here.

Some excerpts from his obituary, which is in the public domain:

Hart was an ardent technologist and futurist. A lifetime tinkerer, he acquired hands-on expertise with the technologies of the day: radio, hi-fi stereo, video equipment, and of course computers. He constantly looked into the future, to anticipate technological advances. One of his favorite speculations was that someday, everyone would be able to have their own copy of the Project Gutenberg collection or whatever subset desired. This vision came true, thanks to the advent of large inexpensive computer disk drives, and to the ubiquity of portable mobile devices, such as cell phones.

and

Michael S. Hart left a major mark on the world. The invention of eBooks was not simply a technological innovation or precursor to the modern information environment. A more correct understanding is that eBooks are an efficient and effective way of unlimited free distribution of literature. Access to eBooks can thus provide opportunity for increased literacy. Literacy, and the ideas contained in literature, creates opportunity.

In July 2011, Michael wrote these words, which summarize his goals and his lasting legacy: “One thing about eBooks that most people haven’t thought much is that eBooks are the very first thing that we’re all able to have as much as we want other than air. Think about that for a moment and you realize we are in the right job.” He had this advice for those seeking to make literature available to all people, especially children: “Learning is its own reward.  Nothing I can say is better than that.”

*  *  *  *

To read more about Mr. Hart’s life and mission:

Richard Poynder’s 2006 blog post on Michael Hart on “preserving the public domain”, with a link to an interview with Hart

The Washington Post’s obituary, from which: “ ‘There are two things in the world that are truly, totally free with an endless supply,’ he told the Chicago Tribune in 1999. ‘The air we breathe and the texts on Project Gutenberg.’ ” And:

…other friends recalled that Mr. Hart’s house in Urbana was stacked, floor to eye-height, with pillars of books.

The man who spent a lifetime digitizing literature lived amidst the hard copies, which he often sent home with visitors. It was one more way for him to share his books.

“The Legacy of Project Gutenberg Founder, Michael S. Hart” by Rebecca J. Rosen, at The Atlantic

A Study in Silliness

The back-to-school silly season is upon us.

From The Guardian last week:

Arthur Conan Doyle‘s first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, has been removed from reading lists in Virginia schools after a parent complained about its anti-Mormon sentiments.

The decision to pull the classic novel from sixth-grade reading lists in Albemarle County, Virginia, was made by the school board, local paper the Daily Progress reports, following a complaint from local parent Brette Stevenson, who said the novel was “our young students’ first inaccurate introduction to an American religion”. …

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Conan Doyle’s daughter said that her father “would be the first to admit that his first Sherlock Holmes novel was full of errors about the Mormons”.

The Albemarle County school board made its decision after asking a committee to study the novel, which found that it was not “age-appropriate” for sixth graders, who are 11 to 12 years old. The ban was protested by more than 20 former students, with one teenager calling it “the best book I have read so far”.

The above link for The Salt Lake Tribune, by the way, goes to an interesting article by Vince Horiuchi on “The long history of Mormon satire”, prompted by the opening of the Broadway play, “The Book of Mormon”. Sad, dispiriting, and not at all surprising that the matter of the Conan Doyle story could not be addressed by having students read the article and discuss it in class with their teachers. No, much better to quash the matter entirely. Now there’s a capital lesson to learn when you get back to school.

Coincidentally I was reading this while listening to a repeat of Jian Ghomeshi’s interview with Kinky Friedman, which starts off with a bit of Kinky’s song, “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Any More”.

From “my very own book” to “my very own app”

Last month, Imogen Russell Williams, who always writes winningly about children’s literature*, wrote a post for The Guardian Book Blog, “Ladybird Books flies away to a new age”, from which,

News that Ladybird Books has been undertaking a “re-branding” exercise, equipping itself for the digital age with a plethora of apps and ebooks, has reminded me how central they were to my own early reading. I remember the Ladybirds of my 1980s childhood as hand-friendly, welcoming little volumes, their matt covers distinguished by a unique desiccated, papery feel (except the Puddle Lanes, which were shiny). Ladybirds were some of the first books to “belong” to me, rather than to parents or teachers – although they represented educational rather than frivolous reading, they didn’t feel borrowed, or handed down from on high. All of them had a crinkled, enticing gully running parallel to the spine, and they were all – non-fiction, learn-to-read or stories pure and simple – full of mysterious promise. They dramatised stark fact in simple language, gripped, even when deploying the much-vaunted “key words” – and most importantly, they paired images with words in a harmonious, punch-packing symbiosis between writer and illustrator that seems to have worked throughout every series and in every decade.

Williams has an interesting take on Ladybird’s abridged books, many of which are on the Farm School shelves,

While I generally felt short-changed by abridgement as a child, taking an all-or-nothing approach to grown-up literature and blithely tuning out stuff like the risqué bits of The Three Musketeers en route, Ladybird Classics remained honourable exceptions to the rule. To this day I retain a weakness for the red-beetle potted versions of Gulliver’s Travels and A Tale of Two Cities, over and above their full-length counterparts (Gulliver in particular is greatly improved by the presence of illustrations.) And my (limited) grasp of English history pretty much owes its existence at all to Kings and Queens of England, vols 1 and 2.

Our all-time favorites are the Ladybird Nature Books illustrated by Charles Tunnicliffe.  Good stuff, and just the right size for little pockets on long walks.

I’m old, and curmudgeonly, enough to be relieved that my children are by now too old for Ladybird apps and online worlds, and in fact the idea of an app for babies makes me squirm. As does the name alone of Ladybird’s newish online world for children, The Land of Me. Interesting blog post, by the way, at Wired’s GeekDad on “The Land of Me” by Daniel Donahoo last year.

It will be interesting to see if in 30 or 50 years, today’s children will feel at all nostalgic about the new Ladybird efforts. While Googling for the Ladybird website, I came across many sites where yesterday’s nostalgic children, also known as “The Ladybird Generation”, can find out about old favorites (herehere, here, here) and even buy prints, and also original artwork, from older Ladybird books.  The books are so familiar and readily identifiable (some would say “iconic”) that several years ago the National Health Service hoped to use the style and format for new sex ed books for modern adolescents; Ladybird, not surprisingly, lodged a complaint.

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* More recent good children’s book columns by Imogen Russell Williams:

Small print: who are your favourite miniature heroes?; May 13, 2011

The Eagle of the Ninth: a children’s classic that stands the test of time; March 21, 2011

Old stories for young readers; February 24, 2011 (“Critics may scorn grown-up historical fiction, but children’s writers from Rosemary Sutcliff to Kevin Crossley-Holland have brought the past magically alive”)

All of IRW’s columns for The Guardian are here.

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